Reviewed in the United States on July 23, 2016
Stephen Davenport has used his “on the ground” experiences to depict characters who can be found in any independent school. From the fiercely loyal to the sneaky backstabbers to the ostrich heads,this second book in the Miss Oliver’s series is filled with recognizable and redeeming characters. I thoroughly enjoyed it and can’t wait to read #3!
Reviewed in the United States on May 31, 2017
No Ivory Tower mirrors real life in independent schools. Stephen Davenport has used his prodigious imagination probably meshed with his own experiences to create credible characters, compelling situations, and a good read. The dialogue seems authentic throughout. I really enjoyed this well-written sequel.
Reviewed in the United States on August 7, 2019
As someone who has worked in education my entire career, I was naturally drawn to the title of Stephen Davenport’s second novel, No Ivory Tower. The setting for the book is a prestigious boarding school for girls in Connecticut: Miss Oliver’s School for Girls. (Ironically, this bastion of tradition and privilege is located on the site of a former Pequot Indian settlement.)
Although the book is set in 1992, it feels contemporary and relevant to the present time, which is a testament to Davenport’s experience and fundamental understanding of education and those who have dedicated their careers to it.
The novel opens with the first faculty meeting of the academic year after long-time, beloved headmistress Marjorie Boyd had been dismissed for poor management of the school’s finances and her replacement, Fred Kindler, had also been dismissed for suggesting that they solve the fiscal crisis by admitting boys.
I was immediately engaged in the story. What better way to introduce the central conflict of a novel set at a boarding school than with a faculty meeting, where we can observe first-hand the tenuous alliances, the petty jealousies, and, yes, even the hope that with a new, young leader the school’s future will be ensured?
The central conflict of No Ivory Tower is emblematic of education as a whole: the desire to maintain and protect tradition versus the need for change to ensure survival. This conflict is developed through a series of skillfully interwoven dichotomous perspectives: the star teacher, “as powerful and larger than life as Superman” and the enforcer, who “would actually lie down on the floor and deliver a lecture about transitive and intransitive verbs” when one of the girls confused lay and lie; the father whose attempts to hold onto his shaky connection to his daughter are foolhardy at best and the distant father who is blind to his daughter’s need for him; the elderly alumna on a crusade to ruin the new, young head of school and the well-known alumna who thwarts the attack.
Davenport’s choice of a third-person omniscient narrator is well-suited to providing the multiple shifting perspectives of these characters caught up in the struggle for Miss Oliver’s School for Girls, as well as what is at stake for each of them. I particularly appreciated the fact that this is the narrative stance of the good teacher, the voice we trust to tell us the truth when he says, Let me tell you what happened.
As much as I enjoyed the narrative stance, the adroit rendering of multiple storylines, the accomplished prose style, and the sly touches of humor, the highlight of No Ivory Tower for me was the character of Francis Plummer. Francis is the star teacher who may be losing his teaching mojo. I thought about Francis between reading sessions, and I thought about him long after I had closed the book on the final chapter. Francis stole my heart, and I want to know that he will be all right. I can think of no higher praise for a novel than that.