Hittin' The Books: ridiculous/hilarious/terrible/cool

By Amy Mikel in Arts & Entertainment on Sep 30, 2008 9:20PM

Elisha Cooper’s most recent book -- ridiculous/hilarious/terrible/cool -- is the result of time spent shadowing eight upperclassmen at Chicago’s Walter Payton College Prep during the 2005/2006 school year.

2008_9_30_cooper.JPGThankfully this compact little book never gets gimmicky, since Cooper has constructed a well-flowing, factual account of what transpired over the year, allowing the students’ stories to organically drive the plot. His dedication to the project shines throughout; it is clear that he didn't limit his observations of the students to regular school hours, but went to their soccer games and dance recitals, visited their homes and sat in their rooms, and ultimately, become their friend and confidant.

As the chapters follow the seasons, the narrative follows the lives of Emily, Maya, Diana, Daniel, Anais, Anthony, Aisha and Zef. We watch them applying for college, failing classes, falling in and out of “like” and freezing their asses off during the Chicago winter. As a result of Cooper’s earnest, but genuine, search for characterization, one can see these students trekking a path of self-discovery - making one wonder what a young adult can realize about themselves if someone would only take the time to listen.

The book is refreshingly free of annoying attempts to romanticize the life of a high school student; Cooper merely sifts through his observations and documents them. The objectivity of the text becomes problematic, though, because missing from the straightforward accounts of science class and college applications is any sort of focus or reflection on the information being presented. More specifically: what was the point of the project? Cooper’s systematic display of high school life does invoke a mild interest in the lives of the students, but the reader is left caring little about them once the book is closed.