The testing crux of my new novel, The Perfect Score, came to me on a day when there was no school and the teacher/writer in me was home alone. I sat down at my kitchen table, ready and determined to write a piece for “My Turn,” a page in the back of Newsweek that I often took the time to read. The essay would address my feelings about testing kids. It was a topic to which I felt many could relate. I was becoming increasingly frustrated and discouraged by the increased emphasis on required state tests. I intended to let it all out. I put pen to paper and began writing, and as I wrote, the unexpected happened: my nonfiction essay morphed into a story idea. An idea that grabbed me and wouldn’t let go. This started me on the journey to becoming a published author. The Perfect Score is different from that original idea, but aspects of my first-ever manuscript did find a home in my novel.
While I’m no longer teaching, I do have the good fortune of being able to visit schools near and far to talk to teachers and kids. Though there are differences in our schools nationwide, one thing is the same wherever I go: the multitude of tests, and the pressures and expectations that accompany them. I’m saddened when educators tell me there is little or no time for read-alouds or creative writing in the classroom. I know how frustrating this can be.
But there is much more going on in The Perfect Score besides the issue of testing. A theme that I feel really hits home is that sometimes we do the wrong thing for the right reasons. The characters in my novel find this out and must deal with the consequences. As much as anything else, that thought compelled me to write this novel. The difference between right and wrong isn’t always black-and-white. Children often have difficult decisions to make, especially when friendships are involved. I loved exploring this dilemma in The Perfect Score, and I hope it fosters important conversations.
I’m excited for readers to meet my diverse cast of characters. As with most kids, they have a lot going on. My characters are bits and pieces of different people from my life, along with bits and pieces of me and my imagination, all glued together. Gavin is a football-crazy boy and a struggling reader. I’ve always enjoyed football, and played it throughout school, and one of my daughters struggled with reading early on, which was challenging for me as a parent. Randi is an accomplished gymnast, and two of my daughters are involved in gymnastics, but my experience as a wrestler and as a coach helped me just as much with her story. Over the years, I witnessed parents putting extreme pressure and demands on young athletes, and that is the case for Randi.
Also featured in The Perfect Score are two different but dynamic teachers. Teachers who care deeply about their students and put them first. I’ve been lucky to meet many real-life teachers like them. Whether we’ve met or not, I know that teachers and parents like you inspire me. Thank you for all you do for our children. You are making a difference, no matter what the test scores say. Kids forget test scores, but they hold on to the love of reading and the memory of having a terrific teacher.