Bynum proves she has enduring talent with this novel, which maintains the delicate, light touch of her first book while navigating the blurry line between adolescence and adulthood.
Sarah Shun-Lien Bynum’s debut novel, Madeleine Is Sleeping, showcased her keen poetic sensibility and earned her a nomination for the National Book Award in 2004. That novel was steeped in the landscape of the Gothic fairy tale; in her follow-up offering, Bynum has chosen to set her characters down in the most ordinary of circumstances: day-to-day life in a middle school. Ms. Hempel Chronicles is really a series of interconnected short stories about the protagonist, a young and uncertain teacher in her first few years in the classroom. Although these first few years are the present-day of the novel, in the interest of exploring the character, Bynum moves back in time to Ms. Hempel’s childhood as well as forward to her future.
Bynum proves she has enduring talent with this novel, which maintains the delicate, light touch of her first book while navigating the blurry line between adolescence and adulthood. Ms. Hempel has an extraordinary ability to observe both her coworkers and her students, and it is in her observations of others—witty, perceptive, and tinged slightly with jealousy—that the complexities of her nature are revealed. Her uncertainties, her sense of longing, her failures, and her triumphs repeat themselves over the course of the stories, from her childhood to the glow of her maternal middle-age, immersing the reader to such a degree that these small twists and turns of life become completely engaging.