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Saving Miss Oliver's: A Novel of Leadership, Loyalty and Change    by Stephen Davenport order for
Saving Miss Oliver's
by Stephen Davenport
Order:  USA  Can
H.H. Bonnell, 2006 (2006)
* *   Reviewed by Rheta Van Winkle

Stephen Davenport has written a first novel that resonated with me. Saving Miss Oliver's is about the change of leadership at a small private girls' school, but it could as easily have been any change of leadership anywhere. When someone who has been in charge of almost anything for many years - and who is greatly loved - leaves that position, the person who takes over has an almost insurmountable task. Marjorie Boyd, head of Miss Oliver's School for Girls for the past thirty-five years, has been asked to resign by the board of directors. Enrollment is down and the school is broke and in debt. The board thinks that a change of leadership will improve the situation, and without some kind of change, the school will have to close.

The book starts with a graduation ceremony where Marjorie says goodbye. Many tears are shed and Fred Kindler, her replacement, is introduced at the reception following graduation. Marjorie takes off for Europe, Fred moves into her house and office, and he starts his new job, filled with enthusiasm and ideas. Teachers, students, and members of the board and alumnae association descend on him with their solutions for the school, unaware of the seriousness of the financial situation. Fred is shocked to discover that financially he will have half the four years he thought he would have to turn things around and save the school.

The conflicts, while somewhat predictable, are interesting, and we care about them because we care about the characters. The major conflict is between Fred and the popular senior teacher Francis Plummer, who, because he can't bear to see Marjorie leave, has arranged to be gone for the summer on an archeological dig in the West. His wife, Peggy, isn't happy about his leaving and offers Fred the help that he should have been able to expect from Francis. This causes a rift between Francis and Peggy. It seems as though all the alumnae, as well as most of the students and faculty, take an instant dislike to Fred, and his already difficult job gets worse and worse.

One of his biggest problems is whether the school should remain an all-girl high school or admit boys. When Fred doesn't get much help with his solutions for increasing the enrollment of girls, it seems that the only solution might be turning the school coeducational, which is totally unacceptable to almost everyone.

What I really liked about the book were the people. Fred, Francis, and Peggy were especially endearing, groping for solutions, agonizing over decisions, and trying hard to get along with each other. Some of the students and faculty were also interesting, well-developed characters, and the bad guys weren't all bad. We saw the good side of the unpleasant people as well as the bad side of the pleasant ones. This book kept me happily entertained from beginning to end.

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