Friday, April 11, 2008

Surviving the Applewhites by Stephanie S. Tolan

After being kicked out of the public schools in the whole state of Rhode Island, Jake Semple (That good looking gentleman to the left. You see him? With the red, pointy hair? And piercings?) moved to North Carolina with his grandfather to attend Traybridge Middle School. Rumor is he burned down his old school back in Rhode Island. Then he only lasted three weeks at Traybridge. Fastest expulsion in the locals' memory. What school would take him?

The Creative Academy would. That's the Applewhite family home school. It's the socially responsible thing to do, according to Grandpa Zedediah. No, thinks E.D., it's suicidal. She's thirteen and best described as structured, scheduled, and sensible. The whole Applewhite school (or unschool as E.D. sees it) has no curriculum, except for her. She created and follows her own.

The Applewhite family is enormously talented. Grandpa Zedediah creates wooden furniture. Randolph, the father, directs plays. Older brother Hal is an introverted artist locked in an upstairs room. Cordelia is the older sister, a dancer and singer (and knockout...one good thing anyway, in Jake's opinion). They're all like this. Even Destiny, the four-year-old brother, has an enormous sense of curiosity.

E.D. and Jake have two things in common. They don't fit in. And now they follow the same curriculum.

In the midst of all this learning - E.D. trying to learn, Jake refusing to learn, and everyone else learning whatever they feel at the moment - Randolph's production of The Sound of Music at the local theater is facing some problems. Child stars, demanding parents, fires, cast members rehearsing and babysitting at the same time, and upset locals all do their part to gum up the works.

When the play is moved to Wit's End, the Applewhite farm, the barn is transformed into a theater, and E.D. is named stage manager. This isn't your normal production. Thirteen-year-old stage manager. Barn theater. The Von Trapp family is multicultural. And Jake (yes that Jake. With the red, pointy hair. And piercings.) is cast as Rolf, the young Nazi soldier who sings, "You are sixteen, going on seventeen..." There's no way this can work.

But it does work, and the reviews are raving. Not only for Jake (yes, that Jake) and the artistic Applewhite family, but for E.D. too, the glue who holds everything together.

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