I decided to add a new category to my Bubby Blog. Book Reviews. For the first review, I have chosen the novel, “Pass or Fail.” This story resonated with me, when I read it in a magazine last year, week after week over a period of about six months. The concept of “life as a test,” in which every situation we encounter is some sort of checkup of whether we will do the “right” or “wrong” thing (or somewhere in between) resonates with me.
“Pass or Fail” is the title of a newly released book by Israel Bookshop Publications. I am a fan of the author, S. Wiederblank, who has a knack for writing fiction with compelling characters, important themes, and well-paced plots.
The story takes place mostly in a fictional school in a fictional town of White Falls. The protagonist, Bracha Halperin, is an accountant-turned-teacher who takes a job at a girls’ school, and finds constant challenges there with her students, colleagues, and administration. Bracha, a mature young lady who is also dating for marriage, seems to have load after load on her plate, and faces constant crises in her work place and home life. Most of the time, she passes with flying colors. Other times, she doesn’t, but grows from each experience nevertheless. Readers follow the inner conflicts that Bracha faces, as she learns to deal with a varied student body, difficult personalities, and school politics.
The theme of “pass or fail” rang true for me, as I found each day of Bracha’s life another “test” that she aimed to do the right thing, whatever that seemed to be. Her character was one with a strong ethic, (past accountant – definitely in character!), if not perfection-striving. It seemed to me, the reader, that Bracha was harder on herself than those around her, albeit with the challenges they posed for her.
This is something I found to be realistic, as I observe that young woman of that age tend to be high achievers, and overly self critical. Readers of all ages -from school age to adult – will enjoy this page turner, because it has strong characters in various age groups – middle aged, and young adult teachers, as well as high school students.
For example, Bracha, the high achieving, hard working, conscientious teacher and employee acted as a foil for another older, more “burned out” possibly tenured teacher who seemed to coast along, breaking every rule, and frustrating the staff. Another challenge occurs when Bracha is set up with a young man who is the son of another teacher, adding to Bracha’s conflicted feelings of wanting to stay on good terms with the teacher. Additionally, Bracha’s methods often counteract the philosophy of the school, and Bracha finds herself wondering whether to remain true to herself or follow the pack. Compound all that with spats with students, counseling needy students and planning her lessons, and the reader is bound to realize how the “sub-culture” of a school environment is often a world unto itself, where there are winners and losers. But everyone feels lost in the maze of wanting desperately to stay above water, if not pass the test.