Probably Still Nick Swanson takes readers inside the special education room itself, which is a reason I like this young adult novel. Even with the popularity of mainstreaming, if one is identified as a special education student, one will spend some time being pulled into a resource room. Unlike with some stories where we see the main character struggle to read or calculate, but otherwise have little reason to label that person as learning disabled, Nick spends most of his time talking with students from or hanging out in Room 19. That is an experience in itself, which is accurately depicted by author Virginia Euwer Wolff.
About Nick, we learn the aching truth that he feels that he doesn’t know anything because he is special education. If he were regular instead, he’d know how to tell if a girl liked him and if there are some guys that girls never like. Just as importantly, he’d know how to ask a girl to the prom. Apparently, Room 19 students never attend proms. Yet there isn’t a rule that says they can’t. And so one day Nick asks Shana, who has recently celebrated becoming a regular student. If he were regular, Nick would also know how to prepare for the prom when Shana accepts his invite, talk with the lady at the greenhouse who arranges flowers for corsages, and ask for help in putting on his tuxedo. Or so he thinks.
About the teacher of Room 19, we learn that Mr. Norton likes to give quizzes to make the students think and to help unify them as a class. Everyone has to take the quiz, but the grade is not based on spelling or even right and wrong answers but on how carefully one thought about the question. Mr. Norton, is also aware of his student’s needs. For example, he knows that Nick worries about stepping on Shana’s feet at the dance. When an embarrassing situation happens at the prom, Mr. Norton praises Nick for his courage in returning to school. In many different ways, Mr. Norton shows his support for his students. Sometimes he might praise their ideas; other times he might encourage them to higher standards because he knows they are capable.
About Room 19 itself, we learn that those outside don’t want their kids to end up in the room, because “You put a kid with the droolers, he’ll end up a drooler.” Nick didn’t understand their sentiment, because he hadn’t ever seen anyone in Room 19 drool. Not even the slowest kids, the two with Downs Syndrome, who instead smiled a lot. As for those in Room 19, they weren’t allowed to negatively criticize each other. In other words, they couldn’t call each other stupid or crazy, even though some of them felt they were. We learn that those inside throw a Going Up party for “somebody who would stop being Special Education the next day and start being just like everyone else.” They also clap when someone returns after an absence. Everyone in the class supports one another, as well they should, because they all have quizzes and projects they do, and all very good ideas to share such as Nick’s project to create a book in kid words about amphibians.
By the end of Probably Still Nick Swanson, Nick has learned to talk with Shana, take his dog to the vet when it gets hurt in a hit-and-run car accident, and deal with the grief over his sister’s swimming death. As readers, Wolff has also helped us better understand: “Everybody’s different. Somebody’s different in China and somebody’s different because they have diabetes and insulin. Somebody’s different with a pacemaker in their heart, somebody can’t see colors except gray…. Everybody’s different.”
My rating? Bag it: Carry it with you. Make it a top priority to read.
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