Excerpt from Master Class by Christina Dalcher, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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Master Class

by Christina Dalcher

Master Class by Christina Dalcher X
Master Class by Christina Dalcher
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  • First Published:
    Apr 2020, 336 pages

    Paperback:
    Mar 2021, 352 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Mark Anthony Ayling
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About this Book

Print Excerpt


The green ones and the silver ones are always in good condition, polished to a high sheen, not a dent or scratch or mark on them. When the doors open, they slide silently and smoothly, unlike the creaking doors on the yellow bus that rumbles along our street this morning. Drivers of the green and silver buses smile as children climb aboard, dressed in uniforms advertised as Harvard Crimson and Yale Blue, even for the five-year-olds.

There's something else about the yellow buses. You don't see them every day, picking up their cargo in the early fog of morning, dropping off in that time that could only be called the after-school show-and-snack hour, that limbo when the kids are no longer temporary wards of the state but once again home and settled with their families.

The yellow buses come only once every month, always the Monday after testing day. And they don't return in the afternoons.

They never return. Not with passengers, anyway. Also, they don't roll into neighborhoods like ours.

If I'd kept newspaper headlines from the past ten years, they would tell the story better than I could.

Immigration Rates Climb-Projections for 2050 Dire

School Overcrowding, Teacher Shortages:

Lawmakers in Standstill over Solution

Genics Institute Partners with Department of Education, Offers Expanded Q Software

Fitter Family Campaign Releases Guidelines

No Child Left Behind Means All Children Suffer!

Initial Directives to Be Rolled Out in Coming Months

It started with fear, and it ended with laws.

I pour a third cup of coffee and check the clock. "Freddie! Please." I'm careful to keep my voice low and steady, mom-like. Anything I can do to keep her calm.

The yellow bus is idling across the street, two houses up, at the end of the Campbells' driveway, which is strange, since Moira Campbell doesn't have children anymore, not at home anyway, and since today is testing day. Still, across and up the street is better than in front of my own house, whether or not the bus is on schedule. The thought makes me shiver, despite the heat wave from a late Indian summer. When did something as banal as a yellow school bus become such a threat? It's like taking a smiley face and giving it fangs. That's so fucking wrong.

"Freddie!" I call again. "For chrissake!"

Here's the thing about nine-year-olds: As bad as the pain in the delivery room was, as hair-raisingly chaotic as night feedings and croup and terrible twos were, as much as you now dread that first I've got a boyfriend, Mom! from a kid who seemed to be waddling around in diapers just yesterday, there is nothing worse than the pretween girl. Mainly where morning bathroom routines are concerned. I know I shouldn't get my temper up, not with Freddie and the way she is.

Note to self: Change tone. Take it down two octaves and a million decibels.

"Hurry up, hon! Test today!" I say, this time with more sugar in my voice, wondering if I'm going to make it to my own job on time. I try leveraging the big sister, making her the bad cop. "Anne! Get your sister out here in two minutes. Matching barrettes or not."

This seems to work. Anne, when she isn't nose-to-screen on her iPad, scouring the Q rankings of every boy in town for a homecoming dance date, is the responsible one. Always ready, always on time, always coming home after testing day with that insouciant little smile on her face and beaming when the app on her phone or tablet pings its pass alert later that night. It's Freddie who stays in the bathroom, worrying over her bangs, washing her hands five more times than necessary. Once, I found her slouched over on the toilet, head between her knees, shaking, refusing to leave.

"You have to, honey," I said. "Everyone has to take the tests."

"Why?"

Why? I tried to think of an answer that would calm her. "So they know where to put people." And then, "You've always done fine."

Excerpted from Master Class by Christina Dalcher. Copyright © 2020 by Christina Dalcher. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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