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Alone in the Classroom

3.26 of 5 stars 3.26  ·  rating details  ·  1,824 ratings  ·  271 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
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Hardcover, 320 pages
Published April 26th 2011 by McClelland & Stewart
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Life of Pi by Yann MartelThe Handmaid's Tale by Margaret AtwoodAnne of Green Gables by L.M. MontgomeryWater for Elephants by Sara GruenA Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry
Best Canadian Literature
154th out of 736 books — 619 voters
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


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Community Reviews

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Paleyellowstar
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
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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
Sooz
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
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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
Jill
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
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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
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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
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Sarah
Jul 09, 2013 Sarah rated it 4 of 5 stars
Shelves: 2013
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.
Bev
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
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Louise
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
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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
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Lorrie
I enjoyed reading this book in some places. In other places, it seemed to kind of drag. There were questions left unanswered - did they ever find out how the house fire that killed Susan Graves started? Did Parley rape Susan? Why was there no investigation? And what about the murdered girl, Ethel? So Mr Coyle was acquitted, but who killed her? There was a good deal of commentary on this incident and the subsequent trial - I was confused as to how it fit into the story as a whole.

I like Ms Hay's
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Lori
"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
Juliet
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
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Jan


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
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Brian
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
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Gem
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
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Vicki H
My mom and I both enjoyed this book, especially its references to familiar places in eastern Ontario and teaching situations/schools in 1900's Ontario. Elizabeth Hay is great at insight into characters: their motivations, complexity and emotions.
Stephanie
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
Carla
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
Peggy
I was so taken with "Late Nights on Air" in November that I ordered this later novel and started reading on a trip east for the holidays. It had a very gripping beginning and the first section had a strong tension. Then it shifted and the overall narration shifted. It seemed like it was supposed to be challenging to determine what character was being discussed. Was this based on 1) a real crime, and/or, 2) a true incident involving a student? Is this drawn from life, or fiction? I wondered if th ...more
Jarrah
Alone in the Classroom starts out as a story about a teacher, Connie Flood, in 1920s-1930s Saskatchewan, told by her niece, Anne. As we learn about Connie's life teaching a struggling boy to read and feeling disturbed by her school's sadistic principal, threads are also woven in about the murder of a little girl in the Ottawa valley a few years later, and then the lives of Connie, Anne, the principal, the boy, and Anne's mother through the 1980s.

I found it difficult to pin down anything with mu
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Evelyn
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.
Michelle
I received this book as a gift and had no prior experience with the Elizabeth Hay's work. I immediately understood that I would be in for quite a different read. And after reading two long, non-fiction books I was in desperate need of a fiction story to curl up and relax with and this novel was surprisingly lovely.

The author has such a mesmerizing and graceful way that she approaches her writing. The prose is tender, beautifully descriptive and transports you into the story and places she writes
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Meera
The writing in this is gorgeous, and really evocative. The narration is a bit strange though in that most of the events are related through the eyes of an adult woman, recounting the stories that her aunt Connie and her mother has told her, but this framing device puts too much distance between the action of the story and the reader to be compelling. Most of these centre around Connie's life as a young teacher, and her first encounters with the creepy Parley Burns, a foreboding character whose d ...more
Stacey
I think I could've gone to 3 stars - if I thought that the dust jacket remotely resembled the book I read. What I was expecting: Something creepy and atmospheric in a small remote town in western Canada...a predator...a murder...obsession. What I got: There is a predator and a murder, but they're not really the point. This book is all about women and how they relate to each other - mother/daughter relationships, friendships, etc. The male characters felt very peripheral to me - even Parley Burns ...more
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.
Tamye
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.
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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
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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.” 5 likes
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