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Ann Roberts’ ninth novel Keeping Up Appearances (Spinsters Ink), is set in 2004 in a Phoenix, Arizona middle school and spans one school year. Faye Burton is the principal, and while she’s not dumpy, she is less concerned with what she wears. Experience has taught her it is always possible that one of the students she talks to in the course of the day will leave something behind: a greasy handprint, tear stains, or a crayon mark.
Early in the school year she meets the district’s new director of special education, Andi Loomis, who wears Prada and Armani. When the women begin dating, Andi insists that they remain deeply in the closet, which is fine with Faye because the district has recently hired a homophobic superintendent.
Attorney Constance Richardson, whose son, AJ, is in the school’s special education program is the thorn in Faye’s side. Richardson wants her son mainstreamed, i.e., put into the school’s regular program of classes. The school staff knows the boy isn’t capable of being mainstreamed, and have told Richardson that over and over.
Richardson is adamant that AJ remain in the non-special education classrooms despite his disruptive and increasingly violent behavior. Richardson is vindictive, mean-spirited, and used to getting her own way in all things.
Faye must deal not only with each school day’s crisis, but district politics as well. When Richardson doesn’t get her way, she gets even with Faye. How Faye and Andi react to Richardson threatens their relationship.
While there are romantic elements, Keeping Up Appearances is not strictly a romance. Andi and Faye’s budding relationship aside, this book is about the bullying of gay students, the constant fear gay teachers live under if they are teaching under homophobic administrations, and survival.
Roberts does a good job in developing Faye, Andi, and Constance (one of those characters the reader will love to hate). Unfortunately, she fails to develop the secondary adult characters with enough depth to tell one from the other.
The only thing distinguishing Faye’s brother from the other secondary characters is the fact that he’s a man — the women characters are so similar as to be nearly indistinguishable from one another. Had she developed the secondary adults, this would have been a fully realized book. The students are much better developed secondary characters and, thus, more interesting than the adults.
Readers may be chagrined at the end of the book when both Faye and Constance act out of character. Roberts would have done her readers a favor by foreshadowing the change in both these characters beyond giving us love as the reason they would or could change in such a radical way.
Despite the minor criticisms, Roberts’ book will keep you turning pages even if you aren’t a teacher or parent, and if for no other reason than to see what deviousness Constance will be up to next.
Keeping Up Appearances
By Ann Roberts
Paperback, 9781935226437, 288pp.