Thriller Begins "Read With Me" Book Series
A motorcycle crashes into a car on U.S. 20. A reporter investigates a town where every child appears to be a truant. And an aide to the governor pushes a bill to outlaw "unschooling."
"Unschooling is child-led learning," Oakley says. "So instead of teachers, administrators or even parents deciding what the child's going to learn, the child decides that -- what they want to learn, and how they go about learning it."
Parents, according to Oakley, are facilitators. "They understand their children very well," she says, "so they make sure there are resources available for their children based on what their interests are."
Oakley is a product of this learning philosophy. For her story, she creates a community of unschoolers, called Carpe Diem, and locates it in northwest Illinois. The village is barely known to outsiders until reporter Leo Townsend gets an assignment to check it out.
Townsend is a reporter for The Examiner in Chicago. When we meet him, he's in a grand jury room waiting for a federal prosecutor to demand that he give up a source important to her investigation. If Townsend refuses, he goes to jail. If he complies, he'll never get a source to trust him again, effectively ending his career. Townsend's editor has been reluctant to give him new assignments while he awaits the outcome. But he gives him the Carpe Diem story. The editor, Ted, wants to know more about "this town that's somehow school-less."
"School-less?" Leo asked, sitting on the lumpy couch that doubled as Ted's bed. "There isn't a single school within the town limits." "Is that legal?" "That's what I'd like you to find out." Ted crossed his massive arms. "That's it?" He couldn't afford to be picky, but a town without schools? Who cared? Ted scowled. "I mean to say," Leo backpedaled, "I'm glad for the assignment, hell any assignment, though I would've guessed you'd give this one to Ferguson. Education is his beat." "Ferguson was my first choice," Ted said. "But there's more to it. I just got off the phone with Raegan Colyer, know know, the governor's chief of staff?" "Sure, I know her." He knew quite a lot about Raegan, including the shape of the mole on her left breast. "She mentioned you. Liked your work. Anyway, we were discussing the governor's educational budget proposals when she brought up this town. Seems the governor's office is interested in finding out anything they can about it." "Why is the governor interested?" "Not sure."
Oakley says Townsend began as a minor character. But his role became more important after the author brought her story to a writing course at the University of Wisconsin - Madison.
"Originally, when I wrote the book, the town itself was the protagonist," Oakley says, "and a couple of people were offended by it -- particularly school teachers -- because it came out a little strongly anti-schools."
During this time, Dan Brown's novel The Da Vinci Code became a best-seller. Brown's book contained an important lesson for Oakley, which she explained to WNIJ:
"How can Brown take on the Catholic Church but I can't take on the public school system?" she asks. "The way he did that was he had a protagonist who was pretty neutral, who was investigating all these issues on his own. So I brought up this secondary character and made him the lead."
By making Townsend a product of a traditional education, Oakley says, we see Carpe Diem and unschooling through his eyes. "He could be more neutral," she says, "as he tries to figure out, `What is this town and what is this lifestyle?'"
During his investigation, Townsend uncovers a conspiracy involving the governor's office to force Carpe Diem's children into traditional schools. This plot is connected to a highway crash at the beginning of the novel when a motorcycle hits a car driven by Alexandra Shaw, wife of state Senator Christopher Shaw. You can hear Oakley read that passage in the interview link at the top of the page.
Oakley says Leo Townsend will return as her protagonist in a sequel, God on Mayhem Street. It's scheduled for release later this year. Carpe Diem, Illinois won the Book of the Year Award for non-traditional fiction from the Chicago Writer's Association.
Tomorrow, our Read With Me Book Series continues with HoneyLee's Girl, the latest novel from GK Wuori. Listen after our Perspective at 6:52 and 8:52. Then come back here for an author reading and more information. #WNIJReadWithMe