Ms. Hempel Chronicles, a novel by Sarah Shun-lien Bynum, is a funny and engaging story. It perfectly captures that delicate bubble of time following college when twenty-somethings, after decades of being special at home, exceptional at school, and dreaming of an exciting life ahead, meet the reality of work and adult life.
The protagonist is Beatrice Hempel. Hempel, in her late 20s, is teaching 7th grade English. Was this the right career choice? How to get the job done: the evaluations, parent-teacher conferences, presenting the material correctly? Bynum lightly and brilliantly captures the problems of this young, new teacher so that anyone who recalls starting a new profession will recognize themselves in Beatrice Hempel. Hempel's family and friends are also woven into this story of a young woman trying to get her work and personal life into a satisfactory groove.
My description of this book sounds much heavier and ordinary than the book itself. Bynum uses a light touch with language. The structure of Ms. Hempel Chronicles is wonderful. If it were a painting, it would be a watercolor; if it were a food, then it would be a delicate meringue. Bynum provides a lot of intensity and content without overworking the story.
A lovely, funny book.