Wednesday, March 6, 2013

That's Not a Feeling: A Staff Book Review


That’s Not a Feeling, a novel by first-time author Dan Josefson, has received multiple starred reviewsThe cover illustrations--intriguing and eclectic--accurately reflect the array of perspectives portrayed throughout this unconventional tale.

The primary focus of
That’s Not a Feeling is Benjamin, a new “student” at boarding school for troubled teens Roaring Orchards.  “Student” is a misnomer here, as Roaring Orchards is not at all interested in academically educating its students.

Many of the teachers or room parents at the boarding school are themselves former troubled adolescents, their statuses as "recovered" individuals quite questionable.  One might even argue that Roaring Orchards exacerbates the emotional obstacles its residents must overcome.  Teachers frequently pass the time mocking students’ outward expressions of their inner distress while creating novel titles for classes to appease the educational board’s requirement of new material for the students’ consumption and intellectual advancement.

Roaring Orchards' hierarchy of teachers and room parents extends to its students. Girls and boys are kept mostly separate, each gender divided into groups of those that are better behaved and those that often act out. Aubrey, the headmaster, is essentially the dictator of this amoral institution (
the reader can infer by this blog entry's byline why the name of this man, the novel's cruelest character, made sections of the book difficult for this author to read.)  Aubrey's methods are employed without question by the teachers and room parents; even fellow students are required to express hatred and anger toward individuals who do not adhere to his philosophy.

Perspectives do shift throughout the novel, casting attention on the school’s varied effects on the individuals under its dark influence.  Tidbit, Benjamin’s classmate and sole source of camaraderie, provides information about relations in the girls’ quarters and occurrences at their separate meetings. Several of the teachers and room parents receive individual focus when isolated from the school’s happenings, highlighting the personal consequences of their responsibility for putting Aubrey’s philosophies into practice.

That's Not a Feeling does possess a dark undertone.  The characters, however (the students like Tidbit in particular), provide comic relief and bits of hope and faith in the powers of individuality and friendship.

Some reviews have deemed the ending of the book unsatisfactory. I did expect certain elements to be connected or tied up in a neater fashion.  I enjoyed the book very much, however, and feel that rereading it would allow me to better understand why Aubrey truly feels his inhumane methods are helpful to tormented souls. I do have an inclination toward dark fiction or satiric type works, so my positive review may not fit your tastes. If such stories are your cup of tea, however, then I suggest you give this novel a chance.

In an odd way, the students residing at Roaring Orchards are inspirational in their ability to challenge and support each other despite their unfortunate pasts and suffocating present situations at the tyrannical boarding school.

~Aubrey James

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