After spending the better part of the first month of 2012 reading classical literature and two certain Swedish books that have become popular as of late, I decided to read something different. Unlike the previous books I have read this year, The Five Pearls was a.) American, b.) easy to understand, and c.) something I could relate to. As a matter of fact, any teacher, or parent for that matter, would be able to identify with at least one of the characters in this book. Furthermore, any young teenager who is searching for an identity would find hope in this book and, hopefully, a renewed sense of inspiration.
Barry James Hickey, a relatively new author who has worked as a screenwriter, tells the story of five young teenagers that society has given up on. Amber is an expecting mother who refuses to tell anyone who the father is and lives in a half-way house of sorts for troubled young women. Marie is a fun-loving (and boy-loving) young girl who flaunts her looks and acts promiscuous (but never really does anything all that bad; as she says, "nothing below the waste"). Julio is 20, overweight, has a huge chip on his shoulder, and likes to make everyone else feel bad; don't let him fool you though, he's a giant teddy bear way down deep. Toby is ashamed; not of himself or anything he has done; his parents are deaf and no one can know about it. It would make him uncool, or so he thinks. Matt is a great athlete, but he can never join any teams because he's too busy babysitting his mom and step-dad's other three children... in their trailer. Five different kids, five different broken homes; the only thing that they have in common is that they distrust authority, and all their authority figures give them no reason to trust them. As a result, they ditch school, commit petty thefts, and find themselves on step away from a prison sentence.
Enter John "Battle," a man recently released from prison. His crime: killing his wife and two of his children by driving them home drunk. Only he and his infant daughter survived. After 15 years and a brain cancer diagnosis, he is released from prison. Having only a few months (if that) to live, he first sells one of his kidneys in Mexico to score some quick cash and makes his way back to Colorado to make things right.
The character of John Battle is an endearing one. As a matured, dying man he has made peace with God and looks to make sure that his daughter will be provided for after he is gone. He becomes the after school teach for the five troubled teens (nicknamed the Tadpoles) and he challenges them not to accept the verdict that society has handed down to them. He tells them they are not tadpoles, but instead five pearls. Pearls because they are not beautiful at first, but need to be polished and cut for many years before they can reach their full potential.
This book is certainly a must read for young adults and educators alike. In many of the classroom scenes, Battle presents an interesting teaching philosophy and style that is a rarity in many classrooms. He is a throwback to Socrates, answering questions with questions and helping his students find answers on their own; he teaches them how to think and challenges them to achieve things that they never thought they could, like their high school diplomas.
I will not ruin the book for you, nor will I tell you who Battle's child is, but it is one of the pearls. It is a sad book at times (Battle is dying of cancer after all), but it does end well. Within its pages are messages of hope, both for young adults and those they look up to. Life does not have to be what society deems it to be; a person does not have to give in to social stereotypes. Everyone has a purpose, a soul, a something that makes them special and priceless.