Review: Hummingbirds

Hummingbirds

Hummingbirds
By Joshua Gaylord
(Harper Perennial, Paperback, 9780061769023, October 2010, 368pp.)

The Short of It:

A perfect mix of wit and self-doubt.

The Rest of It:

Carmine-Casey is a swank, all-girl prep school in Manhattan. There, girls like  Dixie Doyle and Liz Warren walk the hallways, somewhat innocent of the effect they have on others but at the same time, aware that somewhere within them, lies the power to take grown men down.

Enter Leo Binhammer.  Binhammer, as he is affectionately called, is the only male teacher in the English department and prides himself on the fact that nearly every female he encounters finds him fascinating in some way. His position as stud is challenged when Ted Hughes joins the staff. Ted is also witty with the ladies. So much so, that years ago he had an affair with Binhammer’s wife, Sarah. Although Binhammer keeps this info to himself, the two find themselves jockeying for a favorable position and the result is entertaining and amusing.

This is not your typical prep-school fare. The girls are blown-up stereotypes of what we know popular girls to be, but these girls are innocently charming as well as dangerously sexual and bright. Extremely bright. Young and green but on the verge of becoming something else. They possessed a freshness that I found so appealing.

The men, although full of testosterone and practically strutting the halls, had a vulnerability to them that I found wildly attractive. I could easily see myself as one of their students hanging on their every word. As I was reading, I recalled my middle school days when I had a huge crush on Mr. Taylor, my history teacher. I gazed at him every chance I could and when I had him again as a professor in college, imagine my surprise! College meant I was older and not jail bait. Get my drift? Of course nothing happened but my point is that Gaylord’s depiction of such a formative period was spot on. The fawning, the exaggerated sighs, the doubt that manifests itself in preening and five layers of lip gloss.

The other thing that impressed me is how the author managed to create such flawed, yet likable characters. I don’t recall one character that I disliked in any way. They all had their faults but their vulnerabilities saved them from being vapid, empty creatures.  I enjoyed their insecurities far too much but I couldn’t help it, I was sucked into their world every time I opened the book.

I also thought quite a bit about the significance of the title. These girls flit and float around these men as hummingbirds do to flowers, but it’s more than that. To me, the fleeting quality of their youth is what stood out. Their inability to remain young forever and the unknown of what was to come is what occupied my thoughts long after I finished the novel.

I highly recommend this one. It somehow captures adolescence and adulthood in one fell swoop.

Source: Borrowed
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19 Responses

  1. This sounds interesting…a real study of these types of interactions.

  2. I love when you love a book…this one sounds pretty perfect!

  3. Ti, this sounds like my cup of tea! I must kindle it ASAP! Great post – thanks! Really makes me want to read this one NOW (if only I wasn’t at work :)

  4. I really liked this book, a bit creepy (the teacher) but in an ‘it could happen’ way.

  5. I read this one awhile back, and loved it. It was so clever, and the author did a lot to make his characters really full and three-dimensional. I thought it was one of the better books I had read that year. So glad you liked it too, Ti!

  6. I haven’t heard of this one before but it sounds so good. I’m glad it was a good read for you!

  7. I hadn’t heard of this book before, but everything about it that you appreciated really appeals to me.

  8. Oh yes. I imagine most of us could relate to this! We had the fresh-out-college Mr. Jensen, with his dimples and bulging arm muscles. He ended up marrying an ex-student. Which drove us further nuts. There was also another teacher who actually was a creeper and took things just a bit too far with a few of his students. But it is heady stuff for a teenage girl to have such power over these young men who are in a position of power. Interesting. I’ll have to look into this one.

    • Regarding my middle school teacher crush… I neglected to tell you all that I called him “Dad” one day by accident. You know how your kids say “Mom! Mom! Mom!” all day long? Well, I did that once at school and turned 5 shades of red, leaned back in my chair and fell backward. So seeing him in college was both gratifying and humiliating all at the same time and yes… he did remember the chair incident.

  9. I do love a good prep school story but I never thought about the males who teach in the female ones. This sounds excellent!

  10. Love school settings; on the list it goes. Glad u enjoyed it.

  11. Wasn’t Sylvia Plath’s husband’s name Ted Hughes? Any significance in the choice of names for the character?

    • You know, it’s been awhile since I read it but I seem to recall that the name thing was mentioned in the book. So no, it wasn’t a coincidence.

  12. Woohoo..I loved this one when I read it a year or so ago…your thoughts about the hummingbird ring true…fleeting youth!

  13. [...] Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce 43. The Prisoner of Heaven by Carlos Ruiz Zafon 44. Hummingbirds by Joshua Gaylord 45. Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami 46. Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn [...]

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