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Minor Dramas & Other Catastrophes


Minor Dramas & Other Catastrophes

Reading MINOR DRAMAS & OTHER CATASTROPHES by Kathleen West was a perfect way to escape from staying home and to remember days gone by when children actually went to school and we could see each other in person. In this book, we meet several people --- each of whom is imperfect in some way --- and we grow to, if not like them, at least understand and sympathize with them.
Isobel Johnson has been teaching at Liston Heights High School for most of her career. She wanted to teach in an atmosphere of privilege because it is her mission in life to encourage students to feel empathy toward and help others by allowing them to recognize their own privilege. Her “agenda” of pairing the classics she is required to teach with her unique viewpoint makes her students look for unheard voices, the ones that are missing. In most classic literature that high schoolers read, the perspectives are those of white males, so the question often brings forth passionate discussion and opens their minds to those who have been marginalized.

Isobel is shocked when she receives a vicious message on her home phone demanding that she cease her “Marxist and anti-American content” and threatening her job.

"For a debut novel, MINOR DRAMAS & OTHER CATASTROPHES is impressive. West deftly balances multiple perspectives and brings together Julia and Isobel in a completely believable manner."

We also meet Julia Abbott, the mother of Andrew and Tracy, students at the high school. Tracy loves Mrs. Johnson’s English class and has taken many of her ideas to heart, including the notion that sometimes when women stop their careers to be mothers, they never again are able to be as successful because of those lost years. She tells her mother that she doesn’t know if she wants to have children, which cuts Julia to the quick.
Julia is a housewife and something of a “tiger mom.” Her goal is to make the lives of her husband and children better, easier and smoother, but often her best intentions go awry. For example, when she just cannot wait to see if Andrew was awarded an important role in the high school play, she sneaks into school, using a keycard she wasn’t supposed to have, and, in the process of looking at the bulletin board, is involved in a horrible incident that gets her banned from working on the theater booster club.

Meanwhile, Isobel is given paid leave while the administration investigates the sudden rush of complaints into her teaching.
Other viewpoints are included from characters who add to the plot and to our understanding of the situation and their motivations. A new teacher (not tenured), whom Isobel mentored, has her own agenda about how to keep her job. The theater director is torn between his desire to do the right thing and what is expected of him --- which are not necessarily the same.

Kathleen West is no stranger to high school drama and parental interference. She has taught middle school and high school in Minnesota, where the story is set. She raises crucial issues, especially for right now, and highlights the importance of the role of teachers. We always must encourage students to question what they have been taught, to think for themselves and to put themselves in the shoes of others. Those with privilege can learn to think about others without such privilege. I am a teacher in a similar suburb of Chicago, where many don’t think about their privilege. Good teachers want to educate students to be good citizens, and in America, that means citizens who understand multiculturalism and different perspectives.
The plot, the dialogue from teachers and parents, and the students themselves all ring true. For a debut novel, MINOR DRAMAS & OTHER CATASTROPHES is impressive. West deftly balances multiple perspectives and brings together Julia and Isobel in a completely believable manner.
This is a book that needs to be read by book clubs, parents and, yes, even teachers. Perhaps with more teachers like Isobel, there will be a future with fewer deaths like George Floyd, Tamir Rice, Ahmaud Arbery and countless others who lost their lives because of the color of their skin. Racism is inarguably ingrained into our culture, and we must ensure that the next generation --- the generation of these students --- does better.

Reviewed by Pamela Kramer on June 5, 2020

Minor Dramas & Other Catastrophes
by Kathleen West

  • Publication Date: December 1, 2020
  • Genres: Fiction, Women's Fiction
  • Paperback: 400 pages
  • Publisher: Berkley
  • ISBN-10: 0593098412
  • ISBN-13: 9780593098417