20 May 2016

Review #436: Developing Minds: An American Ghost Story by Jonathan LaPoma

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

“They inspire you, they entertain you, and you end up learning a ton even when you don't know it”

----Nicholas Sparks

Jonathan LaPoma, an award winning American author, has penned an heart-wrenching and a thoroughly enlightening story about two teachers in his book, Developing Minds: An American Ghost Story that unfolds the story of two twenty-something men trying their luck in the department of teaching in Miami but their journey to educate young minds turns out to be extremely challenging as sex, drugs and alcohol become their escape. But why would two teachers want to escape the world of teaching and education? What is the challenge that is making them stay back?


Developing Minds: An American Ghost Story follows a group of recent college graduates who struggle with feelings of alienation and their addictions as they try to survive a year of teaching at two dysfunctional Miami public schools.

A poetic and insightful coming-of-age novel, Developing Minds is centered on 24-year-old Luke Entelechy, an aspiring writer who sees his creative output suffer when he begins teaching at one of Miami’s most challenging middle schools. As the year progresses, however, Luke begins to relate to the neglect and abuse his students suffer, and is faced with a “haunting” decision: continue to let his dark past destroy him, or rise above the struggle to realize his potential as an artist and a "real" human being.

Equal parts disturbing and humorous, Developing Minds offers a brutally honest look at the American public school system and the extreme measures many teachers take to cope with working in it.

Luke Entelechy escapes to Miami after working as substitute teacher for a long time in Buffalo, and now along with his best buddy, Billy Lalina, he has arrived in Miami to make his life better. Billy too escapes his job of teaching from a New York public school. Soon both the men bags teaching jobs in two public schools in Miami. Unfortunately, for Luke, his teaching job turns out to be highly challenging as he has to teach a group of ill-disciplined kids in an equally disoriented public school. And everyday seems like a struggle for Luke who soon becomes a subject of insulting object. So what happens behind the blackboard and how Luke manages to win the confidence of such a group of wild kids is for you to find out.

PS: I repeat this is not any kind of ghost story, the word, "ghost" has been used just as an analogy to depict the horrifying conditions of the American public schools.

This book has already won tons of literary awards and it might win many more in the future. So let's take a moment to give this author a standing ovation to appreciate his genuine effort to represent the raw and honest reality of the American public schools through two teachers' voices. Thanks to Goodreads for making me aware of such an excellent masterpiece and after reading the synopsis, I felt myself extremely arrested towards it and could not wait to get my hands on this amazing novel.

These days it is so difficult to find good books, by good books, I mean the ones which can really enlighten a human mind, and especially skilled authors and I feel myself lucky and honored to read this excellent creation by an equally fascinating author.

Okay, I know, I won't stop ranting about this book for quite a while it seems! So please bear with my review!!

The author's writing style is extremely exquisite and emphatic. The narrative has a raw edge to it and its authenticity will hook the readers immediately from the very first page. The prose is eloquent and with such a swift and smooth pace, the readers are bound to feel like swaying along with the flow of the story. The climax is bit unnerving and might not feel like it is justifying the story, but the author has presented a true approach to the protagonist's actions and decisions.

The author has vividly captured the lives of teachers teaching in public schools and the honest reality might shock a lot of readers. Teaching job is not an easy one or relaxing one, instead it demands them to stay sharp and in sync with the changing trends in education sector, not only that it also demands them to have PATIENCE to handle kids of any category or with any characteristic. The teachers lives' are pathetic and sad and similarly, Luke takes other means to survive this hard life. He even falls for a woman and tries to maintain a long distance relationship. On other hand, Billy, too struggles with his homosexuality in the world of teachers and among students thus adapting other means to stay on the line. The teachers can give their life to educate and discipline a mind by winning the students' trust, which is obviously a long and challenging struggle to achieve that. The teachers of America must grab this book to agree with the voices of these two fictional teachers who struggle with the American education system.

The characters both the protagonist and his supporting character are extremely well-etched out from real-life characters. Luke is a brave and strong character and his flawed yet genuine demeanor makes him an extremely likable protagonist and the readers can easily feel a connection towards him. Equally Billy too will warm up to the readers' hearts amidst his constant swearing narrative. The other supporting characters are also very well-developed, and can easily keep the readers interested with their presence.

In a nutshell, this enticing, entertaining yet heart-touching story is a must read for one and all.

Verdict: This is the kind of book that need to put up on your bookshelf and to be proud of it.

Courtesy: Thanks to the author, Jonathan LaPoma, for giving me the opportunity to read and review his book.

Author Info:
Jonathan LaPoma is an award-winning novelist, screenwriter, songwriter, and poet from Buffalo, NY. In 2005, he received a BA in history and a secondary education credential from the State University of New York at Geneseo. A few months after graduating, he and a friend took a seven-week cross-country road trip from Buffalo to the Pacific. Within a year of his return, he bought a one-way ticket to Mexico, where he lived in a small Pacific coast town for five months and traveled throughout the country in an attempt to find answers to questions that haunt many young adults trying to find their place in the world. These experiences have become the inspiration for much of his writing, which often explores themes of alienation and misery as human constructions that can be overcome through self-understanding and the acceptance of suffering.

LaPoma has written two novels, five feature-length screenplays, and hundreds of songs and poems. His screenplays have won over sixty awards/honors at various international screenwriting competitions, including first-place victories in the 2014 Hollywood Screenplay Contest (Grand Jury Prize), the 2015 Las Vegas Screenplay Contest (two wins: Grand Jury Prize and Grand Prize in the Drama category), the 2014 London Film Awards (Grand Prize: Feature Screenplay category), the 2014 Awareness Film Festival, and the 2014 West Field Screenwriting Awards (The New York Award). He lives in San Diego, CA, and teaches at a public secondary school.
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