Lisa Tucker is a fairly well known and respected American novelist. The Winters in Bloom is her sixth book. In her 2007 work Once Upon a Day, Tucker had explored the themes of kidnapping and raising children in protected isolation from the rest of the world. Here she returns to these same ideas. Her protagonists, Kyra and David Winter, have a five-year-old son named Michael over whom they hover obsessively. Their desire to protect Michael from bullying, not to mention dust, mass media, unhealthy food, and any number of other perils, lead them to homeschooling.
Homeschooling is not a prominent theme at all in the novel, and as such I won’t spend very much time on this book. Let me say briefly that it’s a beautifully written and nuanced psychological study of a bunch of really messed up people. Tucker has a sharp eye for human foibles and a powerful, confident narrative voice. You can really feel the paranoia and pathology driving these characters. It’s an engaging book to read, full of profound insights into human nature, yet it’s plotted in such a way to keep you turning the pages to find out what happens.
But for the purposes of this blog, let’s look at her brief treatment of homeschooling. Tucker uses it as the establishing scene to begin her book. We learn that Michael’s parents worry obsessively over every possible problem. For example, there’s the giant boy at Michael’s old school,
the one his father had called a bully. The giant boy, whose name was Paul, had never done anything to Michael, but his parents doubted that Michael could learn in such an environment and took him out of that school. The three schools that followed had led to three other doubts, and now Michael was finishing first grade in home school, even though homeschooling had its doubts, too. I doubt he’ll get the socialization he needs, his mother said. I doubt we can teach him laboratory science, his father said, but we’ll have to deal with that when the time comes. (p.3-4)
We learn that Michael’s parents read a lot of books about “Raising Your Gifted Child,” that they have plastered his “schoolroom” with maps, that they swallowed their fears and allowed Michael a half hour outside alone in the backyard because they had read a book about “free range” kids. Unfortunately for the Winters, this unsupervised half hour leads to Michael being kidnapped, and the plot kicks in.
That’s it. Homeschooling in this book, then, is a strategy of escape from the scary world of big kids, sub-par academics, unsafe playground equipment, and whatever other worries a helicopter parent might perseverate upon in the wee hours of the morning. In my reviews of works of fiction that employ homeschooling in their plot lines I like to try to see what the author gains in using it. Here Tucker gains an illustration of over-the-top obsessive parenting. As the story unfolds we come to understand exactly why Kyra and David Winter are so protective of their son–their behavior makes perfect sense given the circumstances, but what’s interesting for our purposes is that Tucker’s authorial mind quickly and easily leapt to homeschooling when she was thinking about how to illustrate her protagonists’ unhealthy approach to their son.