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MS Hempel Chronicles. Sarah Shun-Lien Bynum

3.34  ·  Rating Details  ·  1,446 Ratings  ·  358 Reviews
Ms. Beatrice Hempel, teacher of seventh grade, is new--new to teaching, new to the school, newly engaged, and newly bereft of her idiosyncratic father. Grappling awkwardly with her newness, she struggles to figure out what is expected of her in life and at work. Is it acceptable to introduce swear words into the English curriculum, enlist students to write their own report ...more
Published February 1st 2011 by Atlantic (first published September 8th 2008)
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(showing 1-30 of 2,878)
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Jan 08, 2009 David rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: read-in-2009

Is it some kind of chick-lit thing? I mean, this book shows up on various "best of" lists for last year, so I figured it must be worthwhile. Right?

Maybe if you teach 7th graders. Actually, it's condescending to 7th grade teachers to imply that they should be satisfied with this book. It's an amorphous mess. I suppose the jacket blurb should have warned me - by now I should have know the code. When re
May 24, 2010 Nicola rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction
There's a lot to find charming about Ms Hempel Chronicles, a fictional memoir of a seventh-grade teacher. Sarah Shun-Lien Bynum has a talent for capturing the quirks of humanity, and all of her characters are lovingly drawn. Her descriptions of middle school life feel joyously, heartbreakingly true. And, two or three times, the narrative builds to a moment of lovely poignancy.

As a novel, however, it never quite comes together. It feels like a character study -- and not a particularly satisfying
Trixie Fontaine
Jul 17, 2015 Trixie Fontaine rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Trixie by: R.
Probably an adorable light-hearted satirical read for most people, it made me weep sweet embarrassing reassuring tears more than once. I had to put it down for a few months after reading this, for example:
“Well done!” Another father, sitting in the back row, began to clap. He smiled at Ms. Hempel. Three more giddy parents joined in the applause. Ms. Hempel, standing at the front of the classroom, wanted to bow. She wanted to throw a kiss. She wanted to say thank you. Thank you. And then it occur
Feb 23, 2009 sarah rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
It totally wans't your typical book about teaching...definitely not one of those grand "teacher saves a bunch of hoodlum kids" (Freedom Writers, etc.) story, which is why I loved it so much. Ms Hempel's thoughts and emotions are real and believable. The book is short and a very quick read. It's quirky and beautifully written. I would definitely recommend it.
Jan 30, 2009 Katie rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
when i first started this collection of stories a few weeks ago, i definitely thought it was destined to be a 4 or 5 star-er. i tore through the first half of it, so so proud that i had just happened upon such a gem on the "new fiction" shelf of the library, and excited to tell everyone to read! read! read it! i mean, a young schoolteacher protagonist, her quirky middle school students, the friday after-school drinking adventures of her and her hip colleagues - what's not to be excited about her ...more
Dec 24, 2008 Anne rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
I finished this book yesterday and I'm starting to believe that I may need to read it again. Not because I enjoyed it, but actually quite the opposite. I found this book difficult to get into and the main character, Ms. Hempel, self-congratulatory and irritating. The problem is that this book keeps appearing on "Best of 2008" lists and otherwise receiving wonderful write-ups. It makes me think I really must have missed something. Similar to The Wonder Spot, this book focuses on the same charact ...more
Sep 12, 2013 R. rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2013
Even though there were points that it seemed Ms. Hempel was gonna go full Tampa on us, I found her to be that most rare specimen: a well-rounded literary character with all the hopes, dreams, fears, strengths and weaknesses that you don't often find (or hope to find, or look for) even in the people that you meet walking down the street.

With her ability to keep you reading about the love life of a middle school teacher, and an almost effortless mastery over the storytelling gimmickry of time and
Jan 27, 2009 Nely rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Firstly, I want to start by saying that this was not what I thought it would be. I was expecting the memoir of an English teacher. The book has great reviews and therefore I thought "why not?" Sadly, it wasn’t something that caught my attention. I did read the whole book because it really pains me to actually stop reading something I’ve started - but there was just no point to this. Ms. Hempel is a seventh grade middle school teacher and with a refreshingly real voice gives several insightful th ...more
Jul 07, 2014 Melanie rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: realistic
A very sweet collection of stories about Ms. Hempel, seventh grade English teacher. Being a seventh grade English teacher myself, it was lovely to find a piece of fiction that in many ways accurately and endearingly illuminates the joys, anxieties and other subtleties of this work. Ms. Hempel is charming….she is relatively young and early on in her career, learning as she goes, finding shortcuts to help her with grading overload, dealing with unexpected situations with students, loving and carin ...more
Feb 21, 2016 Athena rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: no one
Shelves: short-stories, fails
This book is a mess disguised as meaningful literature. It has no story arc and I suspect the 'short story' structure was imposed to make up for a book that starts, wanders around the pages going nowhere and then just stops.

Random doesn't equal good. I don't care what happens to Beatrice Hempel and by mid-book my hopes that she would be run over by a school bus, hit by a meteorite, or tragically fall through an Antarctic ice crevasse thus ending this mess of a book never came to fruition. Oh, s
Erin Malone
Jan 17, 2009 Erin Malone rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I love this collection of short stories. This author has a great, natural, funny and sensitive voice. All of the stories are connected, but the spaces between them made this captivating, and I found myself wondering what happened while I was gone. . . .
Jan 09, 2015 Tiara rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
In one word: delightful.

I have always been fascinated by voyeurism so I fell in love with the protagonist of this story: teacher and seeker, Ms. Hempel. Ms. Hempel is the watcher of all watchers, and what I love about this is: she is not a voyeur that does not allow herself to participate or actively be changed by what she experiences.

Every student she interacts with, every piece of art she encounters, changes her until at the end of the story *spoiler alert* she is fully changed. However, Shun-
Feb 07, 2009 Jana rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: couldn-t-finish
So I'm giving up on Ms. Hempel. There is no story here, just Ms. Hempel reflecting on a childhood to which I cannot relate, and some fairly insightful comments on the way teaching drains you of energy and imagination. It does, but let's include a story, Ms. Bynum, okay?

I read a part of this book as a short story in The New Yorker ("Yurt"), which is what made me interested in reading the book. But that is the only story worth reading in the whole novel...or "chronicle," I suppose. The narrative
Justin Evans
Feb 16, 2013 Justin Evans rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction
Another victim of misguided marketing, although nobody will be crying for SLB, since the misguided marketing led to award nominations and many goodreads reviews. The problem can be easily summed up: Franzen's blurb describes this book--about, among other things, the uncomfortably erotic nature of teaching, divorce, the horrors of history and the difficulties of teaching it, the awfulness of puberty, the inhumane but unavoidable way we categorise each other, and the French diseases of the soul*-- ...more
Melissa Reddish
Oct 17, 2010 Melissa Reddish rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
What a startling lovely book! Ms. Hempel Chronicles is a collection of inter-related short stories that center around Ms. Hempel, a middle school teacher. I picked this book up after Jonathan Franzen recommended it as one of his top five books, and I completely understand why this novel scored so high for him. The prose is amazing-- Sarah Shun-lien Bynum manages to pack a lot of telling details into her sentences that still remain light and airy. The majority of the novel focuses on seemingly mu ...more
Jul 23, 2009 Heather rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
I went into this with high hopes, based on several reviews I'd read and was majorly disappointed.

That may be due to the fact that I read 3/4 of the book without realizing these were individual short stories and not chapters. In fact, I only discovered my error when I went back online to read some additional reviews.

An innocent mistake, I suppose, but nowhere in this book does it specify that these are short stories. Not in the front flap, back flap, back cover. The only place it is mentioned i
May 02, 2013 Mac rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
At first, I thought Ms Hempel Chronicles would be a lot more than the sum of its parts, a series of short stories that would deliver a full novel's worth of plot and character development. The character development is ultimately there; we do have a detailed picture of Ms Hempel, her insecurities, her insights into the students she teaches, and her failures to find happiness. But the overall plot development is incomplete because the stories are elliptical, and they sometimes stop too soon. Speci ...more
Dec 03, 2008 Natalie rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I have been waiting for something from Sarah Shun-Lien Bynum since Madeleine is Sleeping which I adored.

Ms. Hempel appears to us in a series of short stories from different parts of her life, mostly as a young 7th grade teacher full of contradictions - poised to enrich the lives of hundreds of children in their prime as she is told by a former teacher "if you ever had a novel in you, it's gone now." Bynum writes about Ms. Hempel's youthful idealism, her want to be the cool young teacher, her wan
Feb 07, 2011 Nic rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I had been looking for an excuse to buy this collection after enjoying "Yurt" in the New Yorker and hearing Ms. Bynum speak on a panel at the LA Times Festival of Books. An insecure teacher at an all-girls school, Ms. Hempel is a compelling character who wants to make good, but is stymied by her own neediness. No, she's not one of those teachers who sleeps with a student or does anything outrageous. In "Yurt." it's clear her worst enemy is her own lack of decisiveness which permeates her life bo ...more
Jul 03, 2010 Pearl rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Oh man, I really wanted to like this book. Post-college grad grappling with the real world and first jobs. What's there not to like? Apparently a lot. Somehow Ms. Hempel, 7th grade English teacher, never really becomes a character I could latch onto. Her "chronicles" are disjointed. Though there are moments of emotional and descriptive precision (especially in the first and last two "chapters"), there is no meaningful plot. (As everyone here has said, these are indeed separate short stories masq ...more
Carme Vasquez
Abandonado por aburrido. Ya desde el primer ¿capítulo? ¿cuento? se podía sentir el tufillo de la prosa escrita con eficacia. Si te gusta la literatura sin fisuras, este es tu libro.
Recuerdo que cuando era joven siempre repetíamos que las frases cortadas no hacen un poema. De la misma manera, estos cuentos puestos todos juntos no me hacen una novela. No para mí. Es como un me atrevo, no me atrevo a hacer una novela. Pues venga, me atrevo pero como si fuera un cuento. Así me aseguro que los capít
May 12, 2015 Mark rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Early on in Ms. Hempel Chronicles, I got the feeling that this was going to be more of a workplace book, as well as an example of a book centered on someone who is bad at her job, a unique niche that I have noted as being a favorite of mine. Neither of these turned out to be especially true--the focus is more on Hempel's profession generally than her specific workplace, and she turns out not to be bad so much as mediocre, at worst--but once I got past the slight disappointment of its not being q ...more
Andee Schuck
I read 6 books while trying to read through this mess. No, not read, but crawled 50 miles after my legs had been blown off from a Syrian land mine. I would not have made it past the first "chronicle" except that I have to write an essay about "the value of teaching" I learned. Probably that I don't want to be a 7th grade teacher because it sounds fucking awful. Also, I hate Ms. Hempel, mainly because she's a needy, immature prude who thinks it's "silly" to have sex and see a penis. I bet she's a ...more
Ms. Hempel Chronicles is a collection of short stories that follow Beatrice Hempel through her years of teaching seventh-grade English. Each story is a snapshot of a different moment in her life, highlighting the struggles of being a teacher, finding yourself as an adult, and traversing relationships with coworkers and family. As a student, you always wonder what your teachers are thinking and this novel gives an incite into their heads, even though it is fiction. It also gives a look into the h ...more
Aug 02, 2014 Islam rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
This is a book about the life of an average person, Ms. Hempel, is just an ordinary girl, with an uneventful boring life. She's not a really smart person, she doesn't witness a mysterious crime, she's not involved in an exquisite love story, nothing interesting just an average person.

But why? why go through the trouble of coming up with such a character and write a book about her? I don't know, and I couldn't find the answer, I struggled through the endless details of Ms. Hempel's life, scattere
Matt Hlinak
Jan 25, 2014 Matt Hlinak rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
'Ms. Hempel Chronicles' by Sarah Shun-lien Bynum is a collection of short stories that draws upon the author’s experience as a former teacher. The collection describes the early career of Beatrice Hempel, a seventh grade teacher. The novel-in-stories form works well here, as each of the pieces gives a lot of punch (six of the eight were originally published individually in prestigious journals) while building upon one another to establish a broader narrative. The form does have its limitations, ...more
Sep 11, 2015 Scribd rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: friday-reads
Bynum interweaves imagination with reality, finding humor in the mundane in this charming collection of related stories about the life of a seventh-grade teacher. Bynum’s characterization of students and teachers is vivid and realistic, her prose layered and richly realized, which makes sense as she draws heavily from her own personal experience.

I heard Bynum read the opening story, “Talent,” at an event many years ago. Her voice is nothing short of pure whimsy, high-pitched and melodic. It so p
Nov 11, 2008 Terry rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction
Lovely and graceful writing. I'm always suspicious of people who have what I consider sentimental views of children, especially middle schoolers, as the middle schoolers I have worked with are FRIGHTENING CREATURES, and Ms. Hempel's middle schoolers are inspirational sprites. Hmm. But Bynum is a former middle school teacher, so she must know whereof she speaks.
Book Wormy
Jun 27, 2014 Book Wormy rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: bw-tbr
Ms Hempel Chronicles Sarah Shun-Lien Bynum

2.5 Stars

193 pages

Suitable for all

Well my run of books I really enjoyed had to end some time and this was the book to end, I didnt hate it but then again I cant say I really liked it.

In my mind this would have more justly been called Ms Hempel Rambles to me Chronicles implies a logical order and connectedness which this book just does not have, we jump from the present to the past to the future with a snapshot series of unconnected events in the life o
Is this a book of stories or a novel? I think it is a novel but each of the "chapters" might be a free-standing story and some were initially published as stories. I think it is a novel, as Ms. Hempel was further developed as a character by each story, from the first when she is a fairly new teacher to the last when she is pregnant and embarking on a new career.

But putting this debate aside, I found the book to be a sweet and sad story of a young women who, as a teacher, did not think she was p
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Madison Mega-Mara...: Ms. Hempel Chronicles 1 2 Jan 15, 2013 07:37PM  
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Sarah Shun-lien Bynum is an American writer. She lives in Los Angeles with her husband and daughter and teaches writing and literature at UC San Diego.

Bynum is a graduate of Brown University and the University of Iowa Writers' Workshop. Madeleine is Sleeping was published by Harcourt in 2004 and was a finalist for the National Book Award and winner of the Janet Heidinger Kafka Prize. Her short sto
More about Sarah Shun-lien Bynum...

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“That is what is marvelous about school, she realized: when you are in school, your talents are without number, and your promise is boundless. You ace a math test: you will one day work for NASA. The choir director asks you to sing a solo at the holiday concert: you are the next Mariah Carey. You score a goal, you win a poetry contest, you act in a play. And you are everything at once: actor, astronomer, gymnast, star. But at a certain point, you begin to feel your talents dropping away, like feathers from a molting bird. Cello lessons conflict with soccer practice. There aren't enough spots on the debating team. Calculus remains elusive. Until the day you realize that you cannot think of a single thing you are wonderful at.” 13 likes
“If you wanted to kidnap someone, what would you use?" she asked Amit. They were lying in bed, with the lights off. To knock them unconscious. So that you could drag them into the back of your van."
Chloroform, I guess."
Really?" She brightened. It made her happy that the person she was marrying would commit crimes in the same way as she would.”
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