School Days by Jack Sheffield
One of my favourite sort of relaxing books are the ones set in schools, and over the years Jack Sheffield has written over a dozen novels based on his experiences in various schools in Yorkshire. They have the ring of real life, but are also often gently comic. This book is set in 1976, and is full of the popular culture of the time, the food, the fashions, brief comments on events of the year and so much more. In this novel there is also a very personalised look at two problems of the year, as friends and others deal with issues that were viewed differently at the time. There is a great deal of research in this book in terms of the prices and the exact events of the time, yet it is skilfully blended into the narrative.
As with all these books it is the children at the heart of the story, their progress, their family situations, and the funny incidents which are usually very enjoyable. As the narrator has been at the school for several years he has seen many of the children grow up through the school and become characters in their own right. His relationships with other members of staff have also developed over some time, and he has a keen insight into problems, some of which are related as outside his direct knowledge. It is also his search for romance which features in this book; new and old attractions cause subtle problems. Altogether this is a really enjoyable read, and I was pleased to read and review it.
Another enjoyable aspect of this book is the way that it is structured around the school year beginning in September. It means that the progress of the novel is enlivened by the rotation of events in the school, with new staff and children joining the school through Christmas and Easter, with the build up to the summer and some goodbyes to those ready to move on. As the setting is a village school there are also references to life for the locals, as events in the community benefit from the school’s input, and a set list of characters in shops, the pub and the local clergy play their part in the story. The background being Yorkshire, there are tales of weather and local circumstances, as well as details of visits to York itself. The inclusion of some dialogue in the local accent adds to the general feeling of reality in this book; whether or not the reader can remember the 1970s there is much to entertain in this novel.
This is such an engaging read that it is difficult to put down. I really enjoyed, as always, the character of rugby playing Jack, whose thoughtful approach to other characters, whatever their age, is so good. I also enjoy his portraits of memorable characters, deftly drawn in a few lines. This is especially true of Violet Birtwhistle, “Granny Two Cats”, who leaps into action at a memorable event in the school year. The gentle humour of this book is so well drawn, as well as the more serious and difficult situations that are sensitively handled. I recommend this latest book as an excellent standalone read, but also an engaging introduction to Jack and his school reminiscences.