3 out of 4 stars
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Empty Desk is a poignant and inspiring book written by Janet Call.
It is the end of the school year and the last day of Ms. Deann Nelson in Horace Greeley High School. Sixty-one-year-old Ms. Nelson, affectionately known to her students as Nelly, is the quintessential high school English teacher. What she values more than perfect grammar, modern poetry, well-written research papers, and correct spelling, however, are the relationships she has built with her teenage students. She loves telling stories as much as listening to them, and high school students have stories of their own that could rival even the best literary classics.
As Nelly goes inside Room 203 for the last time to pack up her things, she reaches beneath her desk for a secret drawer expertly crafted by a former student a long time ago. The secret drawer is a reservoir of dozens of secrets that Nelly has kept through the years. Each item is a reminder of a particular student whose life has intersected with hers and among those students is the unforgettable and heroic Jordan Michaels, the most remarkable teenager she has ever met.
This is a touching, moving, and inspiring book about a teacher as she recalls the stories of her most memorable high school students. It is about love, friendship, courage, determination, kindness, poverty, indiscretion, vulnerability, manipulation, and prejudice. It is told in the third person perspective and while the book is centered on Nelly and her recollection, the story of Jordan Michaels is disclosed gradually in between chapters.
Every chapter features a particular student and the part Nelly played in his or her life. The stories vary from funny to appalling, dangerous, scary, and tragic. Regardless of the theme, every story is memorable and bears an important message and life-changing lesson. By giving Nelly diverse groups of students, the author is able to bring up the struggles of teenage immigrants and though the stories are mostly about the students, there are parts that portray both supportive and obstinate parents, dedicated teachers, and unreasonable administrators.
On one hand, the most important part of the book, for me, is the demonstration of the important role a teacher plays in the students’ lives. Being a teacher is more than a job, it is holding the power to effect change on the lives of other people. On the other hand, the part I like most is the unwavering determination depicted by Jordan Michaels. In this age and time when students are concerned in their social media status more than anything else, Jordan’s resolve to have a better life for himself and his mother is commendable.
Overall, this is a great book. It has a great plot and well-developed and endearing characters. If not for the noticeable errors which are mostly typos, I would have easily given it a perfect score.
I, therefore, rate this book 3 out of 4 stars. It is touching, moving, and inspiring. Though educators might enjoy this book most, I recommend it to everyone.
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