Author: Joshua Gaylord
Release Date: October 6, 2009
Genre: Literary Fiction, Contemporary Fiction
Rating: 4.5 out of 5
Hummingbirds is the story of a group of students at Carmine-Casey, an elite prep school for girls, and some of their teachers. Binhammer is the only male teacher on the English teaching staff, and he feels threatened when he learns that they are hiring another male, the amusingly named Ted Hughes. However, Ted slowly grows on Binhammer and they begin to form a camaraderie that has the potential to turn into a very unique friendship. Before that can happen, though, Binhammer realizes he has briefly met Ted before under the worst of circumstances. This is a story of relationships, both appropriate and inappropriate: between students and teachers, colleagues, husbands and wives, and men and women.
Hummingbirds is an exceptional debut novel about the realities of people. Each character in this novel is carefully drawn and very well-written. Binhammer is insecure; though he is aware his students love him, he is unsure of himself. When Ted is hired, Binhammer feels threatened because he is afraid that what made him special was being the only man on the English department’s teaching staff. He isn’t quite sure how he is going to define himself in the future and becomes increasingly concerned as to how the students are taking to Ted. Gaylord gets the reader inside the psyche of a man who isn’t sure what he wants or what he is. Every time fate hands Binhammer something, he seems to want something else.
Indeed, this entire novel is about wanting what you don’t have. Every character in this book, from Ted Hughes to Binhammer’s wife, Sarah, to Dixie, the seemingly airhead of a student, wants to be something they are not. Binhammer is consumed by the fact that he can’t get through to one student, Liz, and Ted Hughes can. Ted isn’t confident in his teaching skills and wants to be more like Binhammer when it comes to relating to his students. Dixie wants Binhammer to take her seriously, and is frustrated that he doesn’t seem to realize they have a special relationship. Each character in Hummingbirds wants something that they don’t have.
Since the novel is so character driven, it would not work if the characters weren’t relatable and very well-crafted. Luckily, Gaylord has exceptional skill at drawing three dimensional personalities. What is really surprising is that some of these characters aren’t necessarily likeable. They all have flaws and many make bad decisions through the course of the novel. It takes a great and talented author to write characters that aren’t easy to like, yet keep a character driven novel extremely interesting.
Hummingbirds also brings up the issue about relationships between students and teachers, especially female students and male teachers. With girls in high school in such a hurry to grow up and become adults, there is a concern that these relationships could quickly become inappropriate. Gaylord writes this issue into his novel incredibly well.
It’s hard to believe that Hummingbirds is Joshua Gaylord’s first novel. He writes with such confidence and grace, he seems like a seasoned fiction writer. This is a book that should appeal to a lot of different people, and it’s one I definitely recommend picking up.