Katya is fed up with school. It’s not just school itself – although she finds her middle school to be “stultifying” – but the way she feels herself acting and being when she’s at school. After a summer spent at a nature camp, she has come to a decision: she wants to homeschool. But it’s a tough sell to convince her parents that the family is capable. Even worse, once she does manage to talk them into it, they insist on using the same boring lesson plans that she would have encountered in school, while Katya dreams of unschooling. Making matters even more complicated is another homeschooler. Milo is a violin prodigy who, at 15, is starting to chafe under the strictures and rules of his demanding father.
Books about homeschoolers almost always depict the family as “colorful” at best and utterly insane at worst. (Surviving the Applewhites, despite being a fabulously funny book, is one of the worst offenders in this department.) It was nice to see that Katya’s family is utterly normal and very involved in trying to make sure that Katya got the best possible education, despite their differences in opinion about exactly what that means.
What I didn’t entirely like about the portrayal of homeschoolers was the fact that all of the homeschoolers in the book were unhappy in their choices. There are four homeschoolers mentioned. At the beginning of the book two of them have chosen to go back to public school. Milo spends most of the book railing against being homeschooled and the rules his father sets up. By the end of the book Katya is planning to go to a charter school in the fall of the next year. Where are the kids who are happily homeschooling (which, in my experience, is the vast majority of homeschooled kids)? Despite the fact that a homeschool group is mentioned several times, Katya never attends, leaving the impression that homeschooling is largely about staying home all the time, which, if the families who come to my library are any indication, is certainly not the case for many, if not most, in the homeschooling community.
What I did like was seeing Katya’s unabashed enthusiasm for learning. Her excitement about exploring her own interests is palpable, and not the sort of attitude one encounters in middle school fiction without the accompanying behavior stereotypes of being a nerd. A popular, out-going girl, Katya is smart, but the book never throws that into your face, making it possible for her intelligence to be simply another characteristic, rather than a defining trait.
I found it difficult to believe that Katya was as terrible in school as she was in the past without her parents finding out. What school only sends letters home, without ever following up with a phone call when there is no response? Plus she was so rude and ugly at school, yet she is more-or-less respectful and friendly at home. The sort of pre-meditated, deliberate nastiness that she shows at school doesn’t just fall away when taken away from that environment. Yes, kids can act very differently when surrounded by other kids than they do when they are alone, but not to the extent of a complete personality change.
Otherwise, though, the book was enjoyable. I believed in the relationship between Katya and her parents. While, as an avid pro-homeschooler, I could have wished for slight changes in the ways that homeschooling was portrayed, I am glad that for once we did not have a seriously weird child as the face of homeschooling.