Jenna Bianchi, an English teacher starts her new term with a new student. From the moment he walks into Jenna’s class, Michael Tayler seems determined to antagonize her by talking back, fighting with the other children and being a disruptive smart Alec. When Jenna looks through Michael’s school records, she notices that, though this behavior is not new, he scored quite high on a test and begins to wonder if perhaps there is something more to his behavior besides just an unruly personality. As Jenna lays out a plan (that she names Project June Bug) to help Michael, she must battle administrative issues, differing peer opinions and a parent who is bent on destroying her teaching career.
Jenna is an amiable, enthusiastic and credible character. She shares her home with a friendly, noisy parrot that she came with the house she from her grandmother. Thanks to Jenna’s outburst one day, Brutus has added to an already entertaining vocabulary that provides many of the light moments in the story. Jenna’s progressing romance with the math teacher and her relationships with her peers are plausible and dynamic capturing the different personalities and interaction of the school faculty. Jenna’s perceptiveness and insight to Michael’s problems and his true nature are effectively conveyed, as seen when she first reads Michael’s cinquain: “And as I read his words, Michael Tayler, the surly, irritating little brat morphed into a tormented, desperate boy crying for help.”
The story is engaging, throwing us straight into the story and author Jackie Minniti offers vivid descriptions for example in the depiction of the principal: “A wiry, forty-something blonde with the metabolism of a mongoose, [who] spoke in rapid bursts.” The narrative flow moves along quickly, following Jenna’s success with Michael once they begin working on the Project June Bug actions she adopts to facilitate what she believes is ADHD. There are numerous moments of tension as defensive and financially powerful Mr. Tayler, Michael’s father refuses to accept Jenna’s ‘diagnosis’ or innovative methods, leading to some emotional conflicts and climatic moments.
The protagonist is known for her lack of organization, but still, at times her chaotic actions are broken down into more detail than necessary, for example when Jenna meets her mother for lunch and details how she was locked out: I had to search under the bushes for the fake rock that held my spare house key. I dusted off the dirt, removed the key from the hidden compartment, and unlocked the front door. By the time I pulled out of the driveway I was already ten minutes late.” There is also a scene in which Jenna has a somewhat paranormal encounter with a deceased grandmother, which further illustrates Jenna’s bond with her grandmother but is incongruous with the other content.
Besides offering some basic insight into some of Michael’s symptoms associated with ADHD and her Project June Bug strategies to prevent aggravating them, such as involving him in activities that boost his self esteem; Jenna’s emotional investment in Michael and perseverance in standing up for him (and herself) are conveyed with sensitivity and humor making for a highly satisfying read.
PROJECT JUNE BUG is a keen and inspiring read, especially for unappreciated teachers and those working with students with ADHD.
Reviewed by Maya Fleischmann for IndieReader.