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Bricked

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Loved it! 😍

This is for anyone who thinks teaching's a cushy job, who thinks teachers are only in it for the money. Pat Riordan's in it for the kids.

Synopsis

Jobless and divorced, Pat Riordan takes a little-sought-after teaching job at the district's school for the hard-to-handle, Wolfcreek. Dispirited by their banishment to the at-risk program, students refer to themselves as "bricked." But Riordan sees potential in the behaviors others have deemed unmanageable.
Together with other school staff, Riordan works to bring structure and inspire hope, unraveling the troubles and trauma behind disruptive behaviors and learning delays. But, when their emotionally-responsive tactics are criticized by district leaders for being too gentle, looking to bring "more promising" students to the community, their plans are thwarted by threats to close the school.

As tensions rise with the pressure to prove results, Riordan builds a deep bond with his student Bobby. When Bobby's mother is abused by her live-in boyfriend, Riordan steps in to help, forced to declutter his own troubled life in order to help his student's.

Will Riordan be able to put aside his own sense of loss to inspire his students to rise above theirs? Can Wolfcreek prove that these young adults are worth investing in, so as to save the school from closure? Bricked follows Riordan, the students and staff in what might be the school's final year.

Full disclosure: My daughter was a teacher in an inner-city setting for 15 years. Her first master's degree was in urban education. She dealt with many of the same types of kids, with the same backgrounds, as the fictional character Pat Riordan does in this book. From everything I learned from my daughter, I can say that the author captures the essence of what it's like to teach the lost kids, the difficult-to-educate, the kids whose backgrounds interfere with their very ability to learn, the ones whom society writes off.


Pat Riordan is devoted to his students. He uses non-traditional techniques to reach them, wherever they are, on whatever planet they happen to be on a given day. His personal life is almost non-existent, revolving around a couple of ninety-year-old-plus women in his apartment building and his cat, named Pig. He has a kind of "spidey sense" about a new student, Bobby, who's sent to the school he works for, Wolfcreek, which only admits troubled students or those who cannot succeed in mainstream schools.


Bobby shouldn't really be at Wolfcreek; he's been sent there because he had an altercation with a trash can, and the former-Marine principal won't accept that behavior. He doesn't try to get to the bottom of Bobby's behavior--he just sends him to Wolfcreek. Bobby and his mother Sarah were abandoned by Bobby's dad, and Sarah's choice of men has led to a terrible situation for Bobby and his wonderful dog, Bear. The dog is Bobby's only sense of comfort, and the man who's moved in with them is constantly threatening to kill the dog or bring him to the pound.


Bobby's the "new kid" in school, and it's Riordan's job to get the other kids to accept Bobby. Although it's a daunting task, he makes it work. The class consists of a group that reminds me of the "sweathogs" from the old TV show, "Welcome Back, Kotter." Each child has a saga of his own, and Riordan is sensitive to their needs without wimping out. He's tough when he needs to be and tender when that's called for. In short, the right kind of teacher for this group.


Enter a newly-minted PhD in administration who once taught in a classroom and now wields her new doctorate as power to shake up the school district in which Riordan and his fellow teachers combine to work with these kids. (Note: This is an all-too-familiar story from my daughter and her colleagues: New PhDs who either have no or very little classroom experience who decide they're going to make policy with little or no input from classroom teachers, who have to implement or suffer from those changes.)


I don't want to reveal more details about this book. Suffice it to say that I enjoyed it enough to read it in two days. The author does a believable job of demonstrating the very real challenges of today's teachers, as well as revealing the obstacles so many children these days face with their difficult home circumstances. He weaves an interesting tale of dedication and belief on the part of teachers in students whose lives would most likely be written off or just discarded on their way to prison or worse. He shows, through dialogue (although it's often on the part of a student who speaks out in class), how these students are talented, articulate and intelligent, despite having been labeled as the opposite.


If possible, I would have given this book 4.5 stars. The only reason I didn't give it 5 stars is that I found the dialogue in the beginning to be a little formal between Riordan and people in informal situations (e.g., in a bar or between fellow teachers). Otherwise, I think this is an interesting, realistic book of fiction. I'm waiting for the next Pat Riordan book.

Reviewed by

After a 40-year career in public relations/marketing/media relations, I wrote my first novel, "Empty Seats," a coming-of-age book with baseball as the backdrop. This award-winning debut novel is appropriate for young adults as well as people of all ages and has received excellent reviews on Amazon.

Synopsis

Jobless and divorced, Pat Riordan takes a little-sought-after teaching job at the district's school for the hard-to-handle, Wolfcreek. Dispirited by their banishment to the at-risk program, students refer to themselves as "bricked." But Riordan sees potential in the behaviors others have deemed unmanageable.
Together with other school staff, Riordan works to bring structure and inspire hope, unraveling the troubles and trauma behind disruptive behaviors and learning delays. But, when their emotionally-responsive tactics are criticized by district leaders for being too gentle, looking to bring "more promising" students to the community, their plans are thwarted by threats to close the school.

As tensions rise with the pressure to prove results, Riordan builds a deep bond with his student Bobby. When Bobby's mother is abused by her live-in boyfriend, Riordan steps in to help, forced to declutter his own troubled life in order to help his student's.

Will Riordan be able to put aside his own sense of loss to inspire his students to rise above theirs? Can Wolfcreek prove that these young adults are worth investing in, so as to save the school from closure? Bricked follows Riordan, the students and staff in what might be the school's final year.

Solitary Figure

Pat Riordan stared at the ceiling fan. The soft hum of the blades twirling had coaxed him to sleep the night before. He pulled his knees up to his chest and held the position tightly for ten seconds, then eased out to the edge of the Murphy bed.

He sat for a moment and collected his thoughts about the day to come—meeting at a middle school with a new kid and his mother. He checked his cell. Only innocuous advertisements about fitness and travel. From the wicker rocker, his roommate, Pig, a feline tabby, bounced down and began meowing for his morning chow.

The cat serpentined around him as he let the blind fly up and cranked open the bay window, just enough for a whiff of the fragrance from the shortleaf pine in the courtyard below. Two doves, one a white-wing, took off to a telephone line. Above the tree line the nightlight still beamed off the dome of the Old Administration Hall.

In the kitchen nook he opened a can of Frisky Doodle and dumped the ingredients into a bowl. The cat buried himself in the dish. “Now go slow,” he said. “This will have to last all day.”

He shook out the Irish Cream grounds into the coffee filter. He set out the ceramic mug, with its picture of Churchill in a homburg hat waving the V sign. The brew would be ready by the time he returned.

In the corner mirror of the small cubicle next to the bed, he examined himself; not exactly rugged stalwartness, but a long way from middle-aged slovenly.

Draped over a cherrywood valet were running shorts and a frayed gray sweatshirt. He stepped into the shorts, pulled on the top, and again looked in the mirror. Two-day stubble. He took out a blue elastic band from the pocket of his shorts and tied his hair back. He locked up and walked down one flight, through the apartment foyer, and outside.

On the stoop he again inhaled the smell of the nearby pine. He checked the university staff lot across the street, where his forest-green Jeep was illegally parked. No ticket. How many past dues did he owe? Down the cobblestone street was the Red Campus. In a few short hours it would be full of comings and goings. He bounded down the three steps and headed away from the college, remembering he forgot his cell. No mind.

He was a solitary figure at this time of the day. The mornings were good. The autumn crispness invigorated his soul. The quilt-patch scarlets and Indian golds of the sugar maples glistened. Each home he passed needed a fix of some sort. He stopped and dug out a small pebble lodged in the right heel of his Adidas, then resumed, the trot moving to a purposeful jog.

The chaos-on-chaos of the school day flooded in. The three-ring-bound, wannabe textbook, Bessinger’s Basics for Boys, A Primer for the Oppositional Student, mailed to him by a teacher in Vermont, might have some useful thoughts. He’d remember to take it to work today.

He huffed on. Living near a college campus energized him, even though it had been over two decades since he’d called this special place home.

In the early days, a century ago, the faculty elite lived in the Tudor and Victorian houses with vaulted ceilings and big front porches. Now those houses were makeshift residences for students. Cars were parked in the weed-infested yards. Ivy, once the mark of prestige, was overgrown and dying, despite an effort by preservationists to re-establish the neighborhood as a viable part of the city.

Most mornings a jog sent the dream demons running, but this day an impending doom hung over him like a sword of Damocles. The school’s principal, Doug Donovan, had said he felt there was something astir at the district office, suggesting that the powers-that-be were less than supportive of the teaching that was being done at the school.

He turned down Bath Drive. The cobblestone continued into a winding, village-like street, with hedges lining each side of well-kept cottage homes, sequestered away from the once-stately homes of yesteryear. Tucked back in a leaf-covered yard was a neatly manicured, red-brick building. An unobtrusive white sign read “San’s Dojo.” To the side of the building was a Dodge pickup, 1970s vintage. Riordan smiled as he huffed by.

Serendipity had played its role the day he met the man who owned the gym. His name was Tom San, and he came from the Japanese island of Shikoku. San had immigrated at a late age to the states and still struggled with English. Riordan had read that the complex differences in syllable elocution between Japanese and English made the man's occasional mispronunciations and word omissions understandable. Riordan had slowed his jog, that day over two years ago, when he heard the crack of a tree and saw a diminutive figure in sweats jumping on the trunk of a fallen elm.

“She a stubborn thing,” the man shouted out that morning. “It come down last night in storm.” Riordan had jogged for a moment in place, then opened the makeshift gate and did what came naturally—jumped atop the trunk. Both men balanced themselves as the tree cracked to the ground. “Berry kind,” Tom San said. “I just move in and try fix up place. Can make you tea?”

Riordan had declined, but said he would take a rain check.

Tom San had pointed to the sky, chuckling. “Uh, rain check.”  

In two short years the small building had become a fixture in the area. And although only a few nearby residents were enrolled in the aikido program, many of the town’s women signed up for yoga, tai chi, and jazzercise.

Riordan felt the kick of his endorphins. He smiled about that first encounter. He put himself in high gear back to his apartment for a shower and the eight thirty meeting at Benway Middle School.


About the author

A former schoolteacher and newspaper reporter, I live in the American Midwest with my wife and cattle dog, in a neighborhood where a creek runs and the deer roam. Bricked is the first novel in the Pat Riordan Series. Upcoming books, The Slip Swing, The Cues and Franklin's Bennies are forthcoming. view profile

Published on September 16, 2020

Published by Sugar Grove Press

70000 words

Genre: Contemporary Fiction

Reviewed by

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