In brief

27th June 2003 at 01:00
THOSE WHO GIVE. By Rosemary Cania Maio. 1st Books $26.50 hbk, $18pbk. Order online at www.1stbooks.com

Many novelists handle the big things of life well - love, lust, loss, longing - then fall on their faces as they try to write about ordinary working lives. The reason is obvious: they don't know a thing about them.

Rosemary Cania Maio is different. With her it is the unrelenting reality of teaching that takes centre stage.

Alyssa, Jean and Bonnie are teachers in upstate New York. Those Who Give follows the twists and turns of their fortunes as they come up against illness, industrial action and worse.

Their stories, in themselves, are unexceptional. But there is a passionate, driven quality about the way Maio follows them as they battle with students, argue with colleagues and wrestle to keep their paperwork in order, which makes clear that her main purpose in writing this book is to tell the world about the huge human cost of being a dedicated teacher.

Hers is an American school so, inevitably, some of the vocabulary and culture are strange. Even so, anyone who has ever started a school year wondering how they are ever going to learn to pronounce their pupils' names will know at once what is going on here. Maio dedicates a whole chapter to exactly that. The strains mount until a breakdown looms.

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