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We Give it a B-

By Margaret Hicks in Arts & Entertainment on Jul 19, 2006 3:36PM

7_19_reportcard.jpgJohn McNally, author of “The Book of Ralph”, is a prolific writer. Originally a Southside Chicago native, McNally has written two novels; his short fiction has appeared in over 30 publications; he has edited five anthologies and has won countless awards and fellowships.

He also seems to be a really nice guy.

And maybe, just maybe, that’s part of the problem we had with his new novel “America’s Report Card”.

The book is a satire on Bush’s new millennium, the impossible times of adolescence, and the paranoia that we may actually have a potential to live up to.

The novel centers around two societal misfits, Charlie and Jainey. Charlie goes to work for the National Testing Center, scoring answers for the standardized tests we all had to take in high-school. Jainey is a teenage rebel, but the kind who just wants to be loved. The two meet through a bit of a stretch encounter after Charlie reads Jainey’s essay on her test. He then flies to Chicago to save his wounded bird.

Our favorite parts were the descriptions of Charlie’s job as a test scorer (McNally actually worked this job), hearing just how ridiculous the scoring of the tests are, and how subjective it is for each scorer.

But it felt like McNally is such a nice guy, with a sweet heart and a real hope behind his satire, that he just didn’t go deep enough. The humor is pleasant, not dark; the characters are troubled, but thoughtful. Even the “evil” characters felt like a really nice guy was trying to write a mean character.

We liked Charlie and Jainey just fine, we knew they were going to be just fine, and that’s how we liked the book, just fine.

You can see John McNally on Fri., July 21, at 7:30PM at The Book Cellar, 4736 N. Lincoln Ave., or Sat., July 22 at 2:00PM at Borders Express, Chicago Ridge Mall at Ridgeland and 95th.