By Joshua Gaylord
(Harper, Hardcover, 9780061769016, 352pp.)
Publication Date: October 2009
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A wonderfully compelling debut novel about the intertwining—and darkly surprising—relationships between the teachers and students at an all-girls prep school Spend a year at the Carmine-Casey School for Girls, an elite prep school on Manhattan's Upper East Side: the year when the intimate private school community becomes tempestuous and dangerously incestuous as the rivalries and secrets of teachers and students intersect and eventually collide.
In the world of students, popular and coquettish Dixie Doyle, with her ironic pigtails, battles to wrest attention away from the smart and disdainful Liz Warren, who spends her time writing and directing plays based on the Oresteia. In the world of teachers, the adored Leo Binhammer struggles to share his territory with Ted Hughes, the charming new English teacher who threatens to usurp Binhammer's status as the department's only male teacher and owner of the girls' hearts. When a secret is revealed between them, Binhammer grows increasingly fascinated by the man he has determined is out to get him.
As seasons change and tensions mount, the girls long for entry into the adult world, toying with their premature powers of flirtation. Meanwhile, the deceptive innocence of the adolescent world—complete with plaid skirts and scented highlighters—becomes a trap into which the flailing teachers fall. By the end of the year the line between maturity and youth begins to blur, and the question on the final exam is: Who are the adults and who are the children?
- Two rivalries are at the heart of Hummingbirds: the competition between Dixie Doyle and Liz Warren, and the popularity battle between Leo Binhammer and Ted Hughes. What similarities do these characters share? How are they different? Did you favor one over another? Why?
“HUMMINGBIRDS is a sly, charming novel about the students at a Manhattan girls’ school and the adults who sometimes remember to teach them. Joshua Gaylord’s winning debut.”
-Brock Clarke, author of An Arsonist’s Guide to Writers’ Homes in New England
“Hummingbirds positively glistens with erudition and insight. Whether writing about prep school girls or the adult men who walk among them, Gaylord’s stunning writing elevates his subject matter with equal parts humanity and elegance.”
-Jonathan Tropper, author of This Is Where I Leave You
“The complicated web of loyalties, attraction, competition and camaraderie [in HUMMINGBIRDS] provides much tension as things play out—but not in an expected way. . . . Gaylord’s tale of overeducated men and the teenage students who exhibit the finesse and understanding their teachers lack hits all the right notes.”
“Keenly plotted and psychologically acute, this novel thrums with deceptions great and small—what we don’t tell each other, and what we won’t admit to ourselves.”
-Ed Park, author of Personal Days
“Provocative and well written.”
“[A] winning debut . . . Lush language . . . A very grown-up novel about adolescence and the folly of adults, by an impressive new voice in American fiction.”
-Kirkus Reviews (starred)
“Gaylord has delivered a story that’s ripe with acute and wry observations on men and women, competition, sexuality, and secrets.”