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A Boy I Once Knew: What a Teacher Learned from her Student Hardcover – May 17, 2002


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 208 pages
  • Publisher: Algonquin Books; 1 edition (May 17, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1565123158
  • ISBN-13: 978-1565123151
  • Product Dimensions: 5.4 x 0.8 x 7.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 10.7 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (22 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,695,565 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

Some English teachers come to fervently wish they had specialized in math or American government instead, for it is to the English teacher that students feel freer to write about their loves, disappointments, and home lives, replete with addictions, absentee parents, and all the varieties of family dysfunction imaginable. So it was with Stone when she became the surprised recipient of a box containing 10 years of diaries by Vincent, her student a quarter-century earlier. During the year that followed, she learned of Vincent's life in San Francisco's gay community, his loss of friends to the scourge of AIDS, and the events leading to his death. Her responses run the gamut of emotions from anger to tears of grief over the loss of the man she finally came to know. As she did, a subtle reversal of roles occurred, and the living teacher found she had much to learn from her departed student. A touching and heartfelt book that should stir plenty of nongay as well as gay readers. Whitney Scott
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

Review

"...a powerful chroinicle of two disparate lives dealing with the universal themes of love, acceptance and loss." -- MetroSource, April-May 2002

"...as moving...a tale as I can ever remember reading...touched my heart and mind...not to be missed." -- Bay Area Reporter, May 2002

"...truly remarkable, personal...about living and dying, teachers and students...and a boy who found freedom in San Francisco" -- A&U, May 2002

"I can't imagine a neater finer gift to us..than [Stone's] account of...reading [Vincent's] journals and presenting Vincent's life." -- San Francisco Chronicle, May 5, 2002

"a meditation on memory and how a story can be a form of immortality." -- Amy Tan

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Customer Reviews

Having lost loved ones it touched me deeply.
Elaine Warren
Stone only had the journals as a reference yet I still believe this work could have been executed in a way as to end up with a much more impressive piece of writing.
chelsea anderson
Overall the book is really great but I learned more about the author and I got to know her more than I did about the books main character.
U2pop

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

17 of 17 people found the following review helpful By Dennis Fleming on July 2, 2002
Format: Hardcover
For me, this book highlighted the idea that we never fully realize the impact we have on others who pass in and out of our lives. As his school English teacher, Elizabeth Stone obviously had a great influence on Vincent - one that stayed with him his entire life. But only after his death, when she received his diary journals, did she begin to comprehend her power in his life. Then Vincent, in what has to be one of the most beautiful - yet unintended - gestures, reciprocated by becoming teacher to Ms. Stone in her quest to deal with some very major life issues. This is not a story about AIDS, death or an individual life. It's about our connections with each other and how we never fully know the impact we have on another human being.
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on June 7, 2002
Format: Hardcover
When I first considered reading this book I said to myself "Oh, no - not another AIDS memoir!" having read at least a dozen and lived through the 80's and 90's in the San Francisco ground-zero of AIDS.
Elizabeth Stone's "A Boy I Once Knew" is something much more - a rare kind of memoir and memory game in one package. Here is a middle-aged New Jersey mother of two teenage sons in 2001 remembering a 14 yr. old student, Vincent, she briefly knew in Brooklyn 25 years earlier in the process of discovering him anew through his diaries as he grows into a 40 year old man about to die of AIDS in San Francisco in 1995. Ms. Stone ferries the reader through these dizzying time zones and locations with reflections on grief, discovery, death, illness and aging in her own family, relationships to her parents, children and husband as well as her role as teacher, mother and daughter. Reading this book is somewhat like reading a mystery where we know the beginning and the end but read to find out about the more nuanced matters in the middle. Two people become astoundingly revealed here: Vincent both through his own words and the author's recreation of him and the author through her dazzling insights into herself and her subject.
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9 of 11 people found the following review helpful By U2pop on May 20, 2002
Format: Hardcover
While I really enjoyed "A boy i once knew" I wish it was more about the boy. The novel does follow the live of Vincent and his diaries but it lacks a true sense of who he was. Oh we get plenty about his life, where he went, and his death but I didn't connect with Vincent as much as I did with the AUTHOR. Now this isn't a bad thing at all. Overall the book is really great but I learned more about the author and I got to know her more than I did about the books main character. Was this intentional? I don't think so but if you haven't read the book yet, when you do, try to look at the bigger picture: a teachers own self exploration vicariously through her students' diaries. Very well written and again I enjoyed it very much.
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8 of 10 people found the following review helpful By Eric K. VINE VOICE on May 19, 2003
Format: Hardcover
Upon completing this book (and before reading the reviews of others on this site), I came out with many of the same feelings that they had: this book was NOT so much about the "Boy" but about the author. I'm glad to see that I wasn't the only one disappointed and misled by the book and its summary. I wanted to know more about the supposed title character...not about the author. The author left his diaries and notes to a total stranger so she could tell the world about him...about his battle with life...and death. And yet all she was concerned about was her own life. What a disappointment. I'm sure she gained something from reading his diaries, but we certainly didn't. And when she did mention him, she used quotes from his diaries that were quick notes like, "Went shopping. Met with friend." Nothing in detail. A true author who wanted to share Vincent with the world would have cut beyond his quick notes and written something with more depth, using his notes as a guide. Ms. Stone didn't seem to even "get" Vincent...or the gay lifestyle. So, after reading the book, I quickly resold it online. It wasn't a keeper for me. Sorry, Vincent...I hope someone else preserves memories of you...
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8 of 10 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on June 24, 2002
Format: Hardcover
This was a totally absorbing read; I couldn't put it down and finished it within 24 hours of when I started. I disagree with the other reviewers who wanted more about Vincent; this is fundamentally Elizabeth Stone's story, as well it should be. There was a ton of food for thought here, especially in the idea of the "relationships" we actively carry on with people who have left our lives, whether due to death or just diverging life paths. The book is back on my shelf, but still in my mind.
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7 of 9 people found the following review helpful By DonMac VINE VOICE on October 11, 2003
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
What a tremendous letdown! I picked this up because I loved the thought of the ex-teacher revealing the life of a former student through his memoirs and her memories. Too bad that isn't really the book. Elizabeth Stone uses Vincent as an excuse to write her own autobiography- and believe me, her story makes you long to hear Vincent's all the more. Perhaps his diaries were very vague or his family reticent of having his life detailed - both understandable. But, given that, there isnlt really a worthwhile project here. I got so bored that I kept skipping pages looking to find Vincent's story and all I really kept finding was hers. Ugh! A vanity project all around.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on May 26, 2002
Format: Hardcover
An unusually intriguing, hard-to-categorize book. Yes, the book is engrossing and well written, but it is the basic idea of the book - how someone who's dead emerges from a UPS package and, over time, lovingly muscles his way into the minds of the author and the reader - that stays with you. There is a kind of parabola in Vincent's life - alive, dead, and back to life again - that is fascinating. And the intersection of Vincent's curve with Stone's struggle to come to terms with these issues in her own life adds depth and universality to the story. I found myself nodding again and again as I ran into Stone's (or Vincent's) offhand insights on living and dying.
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