Alone in the Classroom
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Alone in the Classroom

3.24 of 5 stars 3.24  ·  rating details  ·  1,519 ratings  ·  240 reviews
In a small prairie school in 1929, Connie Flood helps a backward student, Michael Graves, learn how to read. Observing them and darkening their lives is the principal, Parley Burns, whose strange behaviour culminates in an attack so disturbing its repercussions continue to the present day.

Connie’s niece, Anne, tells the story. Impelled by curiosity about her dynamic, adven...more
Hardcover, 320 pages
Published April 26th 2011 by McClelland & Stewart
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Kalila by Rosemary NixonTide Road by Valerie ComptonAlone in the Classroom by Elizabeth HayThe Guardians by Andrew PyperHalf Blood Blues by Esi Edugyan
2011 CanLit releases
3rd out of 9 books — 9 voters
The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret AtwoodLife of Pi by Yann MartelAnne of Green Gables by L.M. MontgomeryWater for Elephants by Sara GruenA Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry
Best Canadian Literature
165th out of 638 books — 506 voters

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Community Reviews

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i recently read Sarah's Key which seems hugely popular right now. i thought it contrived and a little patronizing. and ... one of my biggest complaints was how the author tied up every emotional thread into a big bow at the end. i'm sure it was suppose to be satisfying but i did not find it so. it did not ring true to me at all.

Alone in the Classroom .... well, it's a bit messier, and therefore seems far more honest ... AND ... far more true-to-life. it took me a while to get into it ... probabl...more
May 03, 2012 Paleyellowstar rated it 2 of 5 stars
Recommended to Paleyellowstar by: Holly
It is rare that I am as frustrated by a novel as I was with this one. Hay chooses Connie's niece Anne as the narrator and her view of things is inaccurate and unsatisfying to say the least. I wanted to know more about Connie, Michael and Syd because I really liked them. I also wanted to find out if Parley had raped Susan and killed Ethel. I wondered how Anne, a third party, could possibly know things like the scene between Parley and Susan Graves.

Everything just seemed muddled. The timeline and...more
Writing about the interweaving of human relationships is not an easy task, even for the best of writers. But fortunately, Elizabeth Hay is among the best in writers. In fact, she may be one of the very finest writers at work in Canada today.

Rich in imaginings, masterfully conceived, flawlessly executed, Alone in the Classroom is a nuanced book, told by the present day perspective of Anne who is researching her family history.

It’s a book not easily defined – part murder mystery, part historical m...more
switterbug (Betsey)
In this spectacularly subtle novel, Giller prizewinner Elizabeth Hay (for Late Nights on Air) braids family history and natural history, and paints an intricate, beguiling portrait of rural Canadian life in Saskatchewan and in the Ottawa Valley. Spanning the years 1927-2007, it opens up with the brutal murder of young schoolgirl Ethel Wier in 1937 Argyle (in Saskatchewan), a silver pail of chokecherries spilled near her bruised and battered body. This tragedy unfolds not in isolation, but connec...more
Ruth Seeley
This is a tough book to review. I'm torn by the fact that Hay is a marvellous, compelling, powerful writer, but seems to have struggled with the focus of this novel rather unsuccessfully and inconclusively. Who is the protagonist? Who is the antagonist? You could make a case for at least two characters for each of these roles. The protagonist might be the narrator Anne - or it could be her aunt Connie. The antagonist could be the high school principal whose actions lead to at least one of his st...more
I found the shifts in time and place a bit confusing. There's a certain remove to the narrative, similar to that of Late Nights on Air, though with perhaps less symmetry and focus. This book meanders. But that's alright. I suppose that's what Elizabeth Hay meant for it to do.

There's such truth and poetic simplicity to everything she writes. A lovely book.
In the silence of a rural classroom a story unfolds. It is a story of tragedy and loss; a story that examines human nature, love, hate and so much more.

Connie's niece, Anne narrates the story. This was confusing for me at times, as much of the story is about Connie's past. Considering this, I think the impact would have been greater if narrated by Connie. Also, I wanted to know much more about certain characters such as Michael and Syd. The characters were developed enough, however at times I fe...more
Aban (Aby)
I really liked "Student of Weather" and "Late Nights on Air" and was eager to read Hay's latest book. I was disappointed!

The story begins in 1929 when a very young Connie Flood starts teaching in rural Saskatchewan. She befriends a dyslexic boy, Michael, who idolizes her. Connie is confused and disconcerted by the behaviour of Parley Burns, the school principal, but finds support and guidance from Syd Goodwin, the school inspector. A tragedy occurs in the community and, soon after, Parley and Co...more
Jennifer D
elizabeth hay is magical with her words and stories. it's amazing to me, her quiet but nuanced prose (if that makes sense?). i find that hay has a great ability to capture intimate details of human nature and convey them in her writing. but her style doesn't punch you in the face. it just sort of envelopes you gently yet she will still get deep into your bones. i sound like such a prig. sorry! :) i had the chance to hear hay read from this book a while ago and so it was nice having her voice in...more
Bonnie Brody
"Nothing would give up life:
Even the dirt kept breathing a small breath."

For it is in the verdant, succulent, jungle of memories and hopes that this book establishes itself, absorbing the reader in its tale of Eriksonian generativity. It is also a visual feast, akin to finding oneself in a world of post-impressionist painting, cavorting with the likes of Van Gogh, Cezanne and Monet. Hay's writing is visual, psychological and metaphorical. Her words sing and as she says in the book, "It's possibl...more
McClelland & Stewart|April 10, 2012|Trade Paperback|ISBN: 978-0-7710-3797-9

Story Description:

Elizabeth Hay’s highly acclaimed, national bestseller now in a deluxe paperback edition.

Hay’s runaway bestseller novel crosses generations and cuts to the bone of universal truth about love and our relationship with the past. In 1930, a school principal in Saskatchewan is suspected of abusing a student. Seven years later on the other side of the country, a girl picking wild cherries meets a violent e...more
Kathy Mcdonald
The lens which Elizabeth Hay turned on Yellowknife in Late Nights on Air is turned to Saskatchewan in this far reaching story of families and the complexities of relationships. The Ottawa Valley is also a major character. The story goes back and forth from the past to the present and it covers a period of time from the 1920s to the present. It's for me an entirely different story from Late Nights on Air, though I would agree that the themes are similar. Beautifully told, I could see the country...more
Megan Baxter
For a book about the horrible murder of one young girl, an attack on another, stalking, obsession, and numerous affairs and broken marriages, there's surprisingly little urgency. The whole thing felt very detached from events that I would expect to feel compelling, but from which the narrative kept its emotional distance.

Note: The rest of this review has been withdrawn due to the changes in Goodreads policy and enforcement. You can read why I came to this decision here.

In the meantime, you can...more
"He had entered her life on the last day of September in 1929. Tweedy, sophisticated, perverse; an excellent teacher who doubled as principle. He arrived three weeks late, an otherwise punctual man. Jewel was the name of the town in the southwest corner of Saskatchewan". So starts Chapter 2 of this engrossing book. Alone in the Classroom is the third Elizabeth Hay book I've read. A Student of Weather is one of my all time favourite books. Late Nights On Air, a Giller prize winner, I also enjoyed...more
This beautifully written novel, set in Saskatchewan and the Ottawa Valley, focuses on a young schoolteacher, Connie Flood, a backward student, Michael, whom she tries to help, and Parley Burns, the principal, who casts a dark shadow over all who come under his influence. The story begins with a murder, and unfolds both in the present, with the adult Anne trying to make sense of her aunt's story, and in the past, in the early days of Connie's tenure at the small rural school.

It's not a novel for...more

What an interesting novel! Set in Saskatchewan and the Ottawa Valley, this story goes back and forth in time from 1929 to present day. The narrator of the story is Anne Elizabeth. Anne is the niece of Connie Flood, the main character in this story. Author Elizabeth Hay, through the character of Anne, introduces the reader to many wonderfully well developed personalities like Michael Graves, Parley Burns and Syd Goodwin. Through Anne’s research on her Aunt Connie, we become involved in all of the...more
Set in the nineteen forties, Alone In The Classroom uses the sexual assault upon a pupil in a small town in Canada as the starting point for a series of meditations on family relationships and the nature of memory. In different ways each of the characters is caught up in the eddies created by past events. They all struggle to come to terms with the legacy of their childhoods and to create their own identities within the limited space allowed them.

It's beautifully written with a confident and ac...more
I notice that the 3-star rating on Goodreads means that I "liked it," although I would have given more stars for the quality of the book. Alone in the Classroom is beautiful written, almost sounding like poetry here and there. There is a reminiscent tone to the language and voice, and we go back and forth through time very easily.

The emotional reader in me wants to know what happened with Susan in the classroom, and Ethel by the chokecherries. The critic in me understands that this novel wasn't...more
I love Elizabeth Hay and adored A Student of Weather, so I went into this book with good feelings. I am instantly in love with the characters, with the settings, Hay is so descriptive and her settings are not just a background for her novels, they are integral to the story. She will be studied in university classes as a writer of Canadiana, a writer who uses the physicality of Canada in literature. This particular novel had a complex web of characters to sort out, but it was worth it. I didn't l...more
May 28, 2011 Evelyn rated it 4 of 5 stars
Shelves: 2011
In 1930, a school principal in Saskatchewan is suspected of abusing a student. Seven years later, on the other side of the country, a girl picking wild cherries meets a violent end. The story is about a teacher (Connie), turned author, who follows these stories, and her grand-niece who tells Connie's story. I really liked the mystery and the story flowed well, until the last 100 pages or so. And then the story delved into the grand-niece's life... and I lost interest. BUT, it is worth a read.
Lori Bamber
This book is so deep and rich that I was tempted to read it again immediately after turning the last page. A teenage teacher's kindness to an undiagnosed dyslexic boy is the green shoot that becomes a densely populated forest of stories, heart-lifting and heartbreaking.
I really enjoyed this book and was able to hear Elizabeth Hay herself read from it recently. After that event I heard her voice in my head as I was reading the book. I thought it was very well written with beautiful, introspective character description.
Shauna Mikuliak
I really enjoy Elizabeth Hay's writing and how she captures nature and relationships with her choice of words!
Meditative, thoughtful, moving. Beautiful, deliberate writing from Elizabeth Hay. Read it in the summer — the lovely slow pace matches the heat of the season.
Wendell Hennan
a young woman teaching at 19 in a small school in Jewel, Saskatchewan where a teacher reprimands a brilliant young girl for cheating and assaults her. She goes home to her father’s embarrassment, is locked in her room and dies several days later when the house burns to the ground. The teacher returns to the Ottawa Valley and the story continues to be told by the teachers niece, moving back and forward from present to previous years and events. Extremely intricate, with brilliant descriptions of...more
Wonderful Canadian novel set in the beginning the 1920's, in both Ontario and Saskatchewan. Part mystery, part small town wonderment, the book is narrated at first by Anne, about her Aunt Connie, a teacher. The story is pure Canadian, something unique that I, being from there, can so distinctly appreciate. Character driven, the story revolves around the teachers in the family. This would be a wonderful book club book for teachers. This author is a Giller award winner for her book Late Nights on...more
Mary Brooks
Not up to the calibre of either a Student of Weather or her great book: Late Nights on Air. The first 40% of the book was set in a small, rural school in Jewel, SK in the 1930s and a compelling read of the relationships between students and teachers. Two young girls die. Then it moved into later generations seeking answers to the incomplete tales started. This is where the story failed to find its way. It dipsy-doodled its way to an unsatisfactory conclusion. A great start and an unsatisfactory...more
Jennifer Brown
Beautifully written ,but far too much crammed into just one book. Where was the editor?
I almost stopped reading because I was getting confused as to who was ,grandmother, mother, aunt, child, step-child .I kept reading because I wanted to find out what really happened between Parley Burns & the young girl who burned to death and whether he was the one who killed young Ethel.
There's enough for one book just there.
Connie the teacher falling in love with her pupil is a huge other book.
The niece...more
Chuck Erion
Alone in the Classroom weaves several lifetimes together. Parley is the nickname of the dramatic principal who also taught French (Parlez-vous). As the story opens, Connie, the narrator’s aunt, is a reporter for the Ottawa Journal, sent to cover the funeral of a schoolgirl who was raped and murdered while picking chokecherries. She realizes that Parley, the principal that she worked with in Saskatchewan a decade before has relocated to the Ottawa Valley. Did he have a role, nefarious or not, in...more
I have loved Elizabeth Hay’s work for years, so I was sad at first to find that this book wasn’t grabbing me the way her others had. After about 50 pages I was struggling to follow the constant jumps in time and place, and the role of a narrator who had yet to be properly introduced.

What I discovered was that Alone in the Classroom is not a book to be rushed. Skip the end of a paragraph or gloss over a detail and you’re lost. Once I convinced myself that the mystery would or would not be solved...more
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From Elizabeth Hay's web site:
"Elizabeth Hay was born in Owen Sound, Ontario, the daughter of a high school principal and a painter, and one of four children. When she was fifteen, a year in England opened up her world and set her on the path to becoming a writer. She attended the University of Toronto, then moved out west, and in 1974 went north to Yellowknife in the Northwest Territories. For th...more
More about Elizabeth Hay...
Late Nights on Air A Student of Weather Garbo Laughs Small Change The Only Snow in Havana

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“And when is it ever convincing, the belief others have in your abilities? You know perfectly well they can't see the mess inside you.” 10 likes
“A child lies like a grey pebble on the shore until a certain teacher picks him up and dips him in water, and suddenly you see all the colours and patterns in the dull stone, and it’s marvelous for the stone and marvelous for the teacher.” 4 likes
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