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Alone in the Classroom

3.29  ·  Rating Details  ·  2,181 Ratings  ·  302 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
Hardcover, 320 pages
Published April 26th 2011 by McClelland & Stewart
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The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret AtwoodAnne of Green Gables by L.M. MontgomeryLife of Pi by Yann MartelA Fine Balance by Rohinton MistryWater for Elephants by Sara Gruen
Best Canadian Literature
172nd out of 851 books — 819 voters
Kalila by Rosemary NixonHalf Blood Blues by Esi EdugyanTide Road by Valerie ComptonThe Guardians by Andrew PyperAlone in the Classroom by Elizabeth Hay
2011 CanLit releases
4th out of 9 books — 10 voters

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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 3,000)
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May 03, 2012 Paleyellowstar rated it it was ok
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
Ruth Seeley
Oct 22, 2011 Ruth Seeley rated it liked it
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
Mar 09, 2016 Eileen rated it really liked it
Shelves: available-mcld
This saga set in set in Saskatchewan describes how circumstances associated with a murder ripple through several generations. So much of Elizabeth Hay’s prose compelled this reader to linger! She clearly has an eye for beauty in the outdoors and captures it skillfully….. “Birds compete for the berries. Robins peck the guts out of strawberries. Finches, robins, blue jays, kingbirds, cedar waxwings – all of them go after the chokeberries that favor fencerows and roadsides and the edges of open woo ...more
Sep 11, 2011 Sooz rated it really liked it
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
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
Jun 12, 2011 Jill rated it it was amazing
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
Aban (Aby)
Jul 16, 2011 Aban (Aby) rated it it was ok
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
Jennifer D
Jan 04, 2016 Jennifer D rated it really liked it
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
Feb 28, 2012 Bonnie Brody rated it it was amazing
"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
Jul 09, 2013 Sarah rated it really liked it
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.
Oct 17, 2015 Wendy rated it liked it
Shelves: 2015
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
May 18, 2014 Bev rated it liked it
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
Jun 14, 2012 Louise rated it did not like it
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
Kathy Mcdonald
Aug 16, 2011 Kathy Mcdonald rated it really liked it
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
Jul 16, 2015 Richard rated it it was amazing
Really good read. Family history mixed in with a bit of a murder (or two) mystery. Lovely settings and great literary references.
Megan Baxter
May 19, 2014 Megan Baxter rated it liked it
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
Aug 21, 2014 Lorrie rated it liked it
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
Paula Dembeck
Feb 13, 2016 Paula Dembeck rated it it was amazing
This is a multigenerational story that takes place in two different Canadian locations over a ten year period. Anne Flood is exploring her past, trying to know her family’s history and to understand herself. She always admired her Aunt Connie Flood, who was one of the teachers who went west during the early years of the Depression to staff schools on the Prairies. They taught the children of immigrants, bankers and shopkeepers with a focus on reading and basic math. Although the story starts wit ...more
May 04, 2014 Lori rated it really liked it
"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
Dec 30, 2012 Juliet rated it really liked it
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
Jul 11, 2011 Jan rated it really liked it

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
Jun 16, 2012 Brian rated it it was amazing
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
Sep 13, 2011 Brian rated it it was ok
I cannot believe that an author of Hay's ability could have started this project with an end to finishing it as she did.

The initial insertion briefly of first person Anne (a writer, we eventually discover, of Hay's sex, generation and mother's locale which tempts the reader into visions of creative non-fiction,) almost incidentally made the set up needlessly complex if not convoluted. It distracted greatly from what I found to be a story as gripping and powerful as Late Nights on Air, a story t
Jan 06, 2012 Gem rated it liked it
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
Vicki H
Nov 17, 2014 Vicki H rated it really liked it
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.
Jun 02, 2011 Stephanie rated it really liked it
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
Jun 01, 2014 Carla rated it really liked it
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
Dec 29, 2014 Peggy rated it liked it
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
Dec 07, 2014 Jarrah rated it liked it
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
May 28, 2011 Evelyn rated it really liked it
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.
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SDG Reads: SDG Reads 2015 3 4 Jun 23, 2015 03:23PM  
Um..I didn't love it, nor hate it. 3 20 Jan 10, 2014 03:58PM  
ELEVEN READER'S CLUB: Update 1-5 ~ Alone in the classroom 1 5 Jan 05, 2013 08:07AM  
ELEVEN READER'S CLUB: Alone in the classroom by Elizabeth Hay Rational 1 5 Sep 30, 2012 07:32PM  
ELEVEN READER'S CLUB: Alone in the classroom by Elizabeth Hay Rational 1 4 Sep 30, 2012 07:32PM  
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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 about Elizabeth Hay...

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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.” 11 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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