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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars "Wonder" Boys and Girls
WONDERLAND by Michael Bamberger follows the lives and loves at a Pennsylvania high school for a year. He profiles not just the students but some of the teachers and parents as well as the principal. There are the popular kids; the audio/visual boys; the jocks, both female and male; the Homecoming Queen; the teen parents; all sharing their experiences.
The title is...
Published on June 10, 2004 by Little Willow

versus
3.0 out of 5 stars A year with token students at a true "middle-class" high school
"Wonderland is certainly an interesting book about one academic year at Pennsbury High School. Essentially the story has an underlying theme of preparation for the senior prom, but this book is more about the students at the high school than the actual prom. Pennsbury is well-known for the lavish prom they throw every year.

This account of the school year...
Published on June 21, 2006 by J. Stoner


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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars "Wonder" Boys and Girls, June 10, 2004
WONDERLAND by Michael Bamberger follows the lives and loves at a Pennsylvania high school for a year. He profiles not just the students but some of the teachers and parents as well as the principal. There are the popular kids; the audio/visual boys; the jocks, both female and male; the Homecoming Queen; the teen parents; all sharing their experiences.
The title is two-fold. The book begins with a passage by Lewis Carroll, whose classic work Alice's Adventures in Wonderland is a coming-of-age tale in its own right. One of the boys profiled in this work attempts to get John Mayer, the singer / songwriter / guitarist, to perform at their school prom. Mayer has a song entitled "Your Body is a Wonderland." It is interesting to note that the student body had an interest in Mayer prior to his winning Grammy awards; in fact, the book shows his rise to fame over the course of the school year, as well as the band Maroon 5.
Happily, the focus of the book is not on songwriters or pop culture, but the experiences of teens. They offer drama, comedy and tragedy. Such is real life.
Wonderland is a very quick read and worth picking up. Never invasive, never an expose, this book tells it how it is. The writer never judges the actions of the teens; he lets their actions speak for themselves. Each chapter is named after a month, September through May. I would have liked to have read more about finals and graduation, rather than cutting off after the prom in May. However, I liked the last bit wrapping up what happened the summer and fall after the school year, and the fact that the author tied it into his own past and present experiences.
This study of a year in the life of high school students to shows that, when you get down to it, teenagers across the nation have more in common than they might think. Not only that, but it will appeal to all ages, because many of the same hobbies, goals, hopes, fears, loves and losses of the present generation are those of generations past.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars It Reads Like a Soap (and There's Nothing Wrong With That), August 18, 2004
I picked up this book on the fly from my local library, as I was getting ready to go on vacation and in need of some "beach reading" (literally). I had vaguely heard about the book, primarily because of the sub-plot involving one of the high school kids trying to get John Mayer to perform at the prom.

As it turns out, this reads like a baby eats candy: effortlessly. The author (a senior writer at Sports illustrated) follows the high school kids at Pennsbury HS (in suburban PA) for the entire 02-03 academic year. He picks about 10 kids around which to focus the main developments through the school year, and it really is a soap. Will the football team QB get a scholarschip at a big school? What happens to the prom queen with the mysterious boyfriend that nobody ever sees? Can the go-get-'em junior really convince then pre-Grammy winner and up-and-coming John Mayer to play at the prom? Before you realize it, you are turning the pages, eager to find out how it all plays out.

When I'm on vacation, on a beach, this is exactly the type of book I want to read: entertaining, engaging, not too complex, yet real. Highly recommended for brainless, effortless summer reading!
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars couldn't have said it better, June 24, 2004
By A Customer
No matter where you are from or what high school you went to, everyone can relate to this book. I very recently graduated from high school (class of '03, the same year as the kids in the book) and just happened upon this book at the airport. Before I even landed at my destination, I had finished it. The people in this story are the same characters at every high school. Every school has it's jocks and it's preps and it's preverbial screw-ups. Bambarger did an amazing job of capturing high school as it is lived, even if the prom at the end of the year is the climax. High school even only having been gone a year now, seems like another lifetime and after reading this book it seems like just yesterday I was preparing for my five day prom. Pick it up, I promise you'll love it as much as I did.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Triumph of Old Fashioned "New Journalism", April 7, 2005
By 
Kevin Killian (San Francisco, CA United States) - See all my reviews
(HALL OF FAME REVIEWER)    (REAL NAME)   
Pennsbury is an ordinary sort of high school except with a traditionally fantastic prom. Every year the students, teachers, parents, in fact the whole community goes overboard to make sure that Prom is a once in a lifetime experience for their graduating seniors. Mike Bamberger arrived there one summer and spent the next ten months following a handful of students and other citizens as they planned for the Prom. There's a young couple who are having a baby. There's the star quarterback, and the homecoming queen. There are nerds and jocks and heads and Goths, and everyone focussed on one activity--the Prom. What makes the book so good is Bamberger's attention to even the smallest details. He is from the Lillian Ross school of journalism, in which details like the clothes the characters wear and the slang they use serve to characterize them as a great novelist might populate the pages of his mise-en-scene.

In any documentary some of your success is going to be a matter of luck, and it depends on who you choose to follow. I think Bamberger made a tiny mistake focussing on this one girl, Lindsey Milroy, the head of the Prom Committee, to whom nothing interesting seems to happen, she just remains unlikeable and weird looking--great hair, small face. The other characters grow in your mind, especially Bobby, the QB with a disabled younger brother of 14 who depends on him in every way. This storyline is enough to break your heart, as is the story of the young boy who gets killed in a traffic accident on his Christmas break.

Played for laughs is the storyline of the detention monitor, "Miss Snyder," who seems to have a yen for one or more of the boys in the senior class. It is whispered through the whole community that she parties with her favorites and even buys one of them a tattoo. She's daring if nothing else.

The go-getter boy, Bob Costa, is hilarious, whether he's ogling the homecoming queen Alyssa Bergman, or trying to score an on camera interview with Patti LaBelle, hampered not at all but not even knowing who she is. I think Bamberger identifies with this boy, as a modern-day version of his own high school self (he graduated in the 1970s from Patchogue-Medford HS on Long Island) and paints him as a geek with balls for days. Towards the end of the story Costa meets one of his heroes, and again the encounter will have readers clapping their hands with delight.

I think anyone who's been to an American high school with identify with one or more of the characters in this book. Or anyone who's had a dream of doing something great.

My estimation of Maroon 5 has grown exponentially, and my regard for John Mayer has sunk to an all time low. Bamberger paints him as a mean, sarcastic creep surrounded by layers of entourage like cotton batting, keeping him far, far away from human reality. As Bamberger plays it out, you get the feeling that one of these days Karma's going to come back for a big bite out of John Mayer's ass.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Great account of Pennsbury and Levittown, June 9, 2004
By 
Randall J. Dahl (Bensalem, PA United States) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
I am a Pennsbury grad ('96) and was born and raised in Levittown, PA, the settings in Michael Bamberger's book "Wonderland." Bamberger does a wonderful job of portraying my high school and hometown. The prom is the central focus of the story, but he effectively does several things at once throughout the book. From laying out the history of Pennsbury and the surrounding area, to developing many different characters that are interesting to follow, to crafting a story that takes actual accounts and weaves them into a page turning novel. Bamberger paints the subjects in the book vividly, and it's interesting to read about the teachers and the principal who were around during my time at Pennsbury. I was never one for having a lot of school spirit, but I was and still am proud to be from Levittown. He does a great job of describing it by including many of the numerous sections and streets, the local businesses and hangouts, and vivid depictions of the homes. He also discusses the inherent social and economic differences between Levittowners and Yardley residents. I always felt an undercurrent of this division in my high school and it's great that the author brought it out in the book. If you start reading it, you'll definitely finish it within a few days. It's a great read, even if you didn't go to Pennsbury.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A very good story, June 9, 2004
By 
"fhoyt" (Winter Park, CO United States) - See all my reviews
Sure this book is about a particular High School, in a particular place and time. But it could be about your High School, and it could be about when you went to High School. I graduated from High School almost thirty years ago. Mr. Bamberger makes the characters come alive, the names may change but all high schools have the same characters. It was a trip down memory lane for me. I was the AV geek in high school, and daydreamed about the hot mysterious blonde babe who I later came to know. Was this, or is this a special High School? No, it is a very ordinary High School in a very ordinary place. It is a story about people that all of us have known. It is a story about a place that all of us have been to, and yes there is something about a prom. This book now sits on the shelf next to my yearbook. You see, I spent 2 years in "The ROCK" they call Pennsbury High. Jim Cunningham was my Social Studies teacher, and the mere mention of his name makes my left ear twinge. I am a proud graduate of the class of '75.
Am I just a little prejudiced? Buy the book and find out for yourself.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars They arrive... in their own way, at their own pace:, June 9, 2004
By 
Catriona Scott (Lady's Island, SC) - See all my reviews
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Mr. Bamberger illuminates the lives of a cross-cut of students and paints their lives and values within the nurturing structures of the various "villages" that feed into the Pennsbury School District. This is not just a book about an "ordinary" American High School with an exceptional prom. It's not an "ordinary" high school because not one of the towns ("villages") that feed into it is "ordinary" in any way. Because, as quoted: "No examined life is ordinary." It's a book about the families in those villages who have formed the long held values as well as the faculty and administrators who share so many of those values in common. It is appropriate that Mr. Bamberger features the exceptional Pennsbury Prom in this book because it's the appropriate conclusion to the celebration of life that the diversified "villagers" all revel in routinely... and that keep them, from generation to generation, firmly rooted where they are.
I'm reviewing herein how well Mr. Bamberger captured the "feel" of the communities and the type of individuals that a School that serves such a diverse societal mix turns out... or rather how families who choose to live in such a District choose to raise their children. It's truly a give and take. It starts with the families and their conscious decision to raise their children in an area where they "turned out just fine." No criticism there; people, for the most part, are happy with themselves. They are certainly not without their issues, but "survivors" as Bamberger describes them. It continues with a High School whose administrators share the same "happy with themselves" attitude and progressive but conservative and very tolerant values. For an outsider <wink>, Mr. Bamberger does a great job of this.
The Prom is special because the neighborhoods are special. The students arrive at the prom in their own unique conveyances, whether it be a tractor or a Rolls Royce or pulled in a cart by a donkey; or in the junker being towed by the local gas station's tow truck. At Pennsbury it has always been more desireable to arrive in a VW Minibus painted to look like the Mystery Machine than to arrive in a Limosine. But arrive they do.. on the scene much the way they will arrive on every scene of life, henceforth from graduation day... in their own way, at their own pace...
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A School Where Kids Are Happy and Involved: Refreshing!, December 10, 2004
By 
The most "wondorous" thing about Michael Bamberger's book on Pennsbury High School in Pennsylvania is that it is not an indictment of what is wrong with the American Educational System like so many other books on Education. It's not the tales of woe of unhappy students, disaffected teachers, crime or financial waste.

Quite the contrary: Wonderland is a book that illustrates how excellent education occurs in a school where the the faculty and staff care about the kids, have standards, believe in what they are doing and work hard at realizing high expectations. Its a book about kids who are effectively engaged in school academically and through extra and co-curricular activities. Its a book about parents, who despite differing socio-economic standing, support their kids education and value the school and its traditions.

As much as there are many grand plans for the reform of education that will "really show results" there are no better results to be found than in schools like Pennsbury where professionals, parents, the community, and the kids themselves, value the educational process, and where each group does its part to achieve success.

Bamberger does a remarkable job of capturing the life and pulse of a high school across the year he visits Pennbury as a returned 'senior'. He gets to know students and faculty, is able to move between the two groups without forming alliances, or becoming judgemental. He tells his stories through the daily events of the school as seen through individual faculty and student eyes. He introduces real people from Pennsbury as characters we begin to care about and root for, as the year proceeds. And, by this rather ordinary reporting, Bamberger presents a pretty eloquent and exciting story of kids learning, growing, worrying, groaning and progressing, and of the adults who are in their lives through these developmental years.

Pennsbury is a story that is worthy of being told because it is a school like many of the other good ones that we never read about because they aren't besieged by scandal, or crime or some other 'newsworthy' problem. But, it is a remarkable story in that it gives witness to the most vital elements of excellent education at work. We don't need to rebuild the American Educational System. We need to see that the most important ingredients for good education are at work -- together -- on behalf of the success of kids. When administraors, teachers and staff are devoted to their work, engage the students, enlist the support of parents and the local community, good education takes place. And that is pretty exciting and amazing! More stories of good schools like Pennsbury need to be told so that people begin to see that the wheel doesn't need to be reinvented. We know how good education happens. Lets see that it happens in all places that kids call school throughout our country.

A well told and inspiring story.

Highly recommended!

Daniel J. Maloney
Saint Paul, Minnesota
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Wonderland: A Year in the Life of an American High School, August 23, 2005
This review is from: Wonderland: A Year in the Life of an American High School (Paperback)
The book reminds one in full color of the drama and angst and roller-coaster of emotion that being an American teen is, without condescending or falling prey to the "oh-mi-god" possibilities. Great writing: involved, respectful, real, developed characters. Bravo! Looking forward to the next book.
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4.0 out of 5 stars The Wonderland of high school years, November 1, 2006
Sports Illustrated senior writer Michael Bamberger spent the 2002-03 academic year following a group of students in a suburban Philadelphia high school. Pennsbury, a typical middle class institution in many ways, had attained local stardom and even some national recognition for its senior prom, an extravagant, gala affair held in Pennsbury's own completely transformed gym. The planning of this elaborate event required a joint effort amongst savvy students, dedicated faculty members, and involved parents, but Bamberger chooses to focus mainly on the students themselves in this intriguing work.

In some ways, the students who Bamberger selects to chronicle are common to virtually every high school in America: the three-sport jock, the aspiring politician, the knockout, the ruthless overachiever, etc. However, Bamberger manages to identify the exceptional in each of his subjects. Few people know that the "jock" lifts his disabled brother into bed every night. The senior male-junior girl couple experience an unplanned pregnancy, but take birthing classes together, continue their studies, and arrange babysitting for their newborn so that they can attend the prom. Star students have insecurities; obscure students achieve stardom. Oh, and popular singer John Mayer (whose hit song lends its name to the book's title) just might wind up performing at the prom. Bamberger presents a truly inspired insider's look into ordinary lives, and the result makes for an extraordinary read.

The only minor issue I had with this book is Bamberger's decision to insert himself into the story in the form of reminiscing about his own prom experience. He only does this briefly at the beginning and the end of the book, but it seemed out of place given that otherwise, he is an unnamed, unseen narrator. Furthermore, while he does an excellent job of making the lives of high school students interesting and engrossing, his subject matter lacks the innate appeal found in his second work, The Man Who Heard Voices (a fascinating look into the inner world of director M. Night Shyamalan). Still, Wonderland is an absorbing, worthwhile read it its own right, and I would definitely recommend it.
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Wonderland: A Year in the Life of an American High School
Wonderland: A Year in the Life of an American High School by Michael Bamberger (Paperback - March 10, 2005)
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