At the center of this descriptive, moving novel, is Mizbie, a compassionate high school English teacher who is both sensitive and wise to the ways of her students. Issues in her personal and professional life never stand in the way of her capacity to care for her students – and it’s this caring, which in our too-often jaded world, gives readers a sense of hope that teachers like Mizbie actually exist. Only a teacher could have written this novel. No way could anyone but a perceptive teacher have those perceptive insights into other characters, like Mara Jade, Rasmi, and Singer. Mizbie’s deeds border on the heroic, but retain a realism which keeps the writing credible.
However, the book’s not without its villains. By the end, I was ready to throttle Principal Krahler! Sadly, haven’t we all known administrators in educational settings like this jerk? It’s in Duffy’s description of Krahler where her satire truly has venom in its bite. Inclusion of students’ poetry, as well as emails to a friend bicycling through Europe, further flesh out the tale. Cycling is as integral to the narrative as are descriptions of too-die-for cuisine. Rich language, depth of focus, and attention to detail make this novel a true literary gem. Give or Take should be at the top of every fiction reader’s list!