Reviewed in the United States on October 10, 2020Verified Purchase
THE ENCAMPMENT is about two worlds colliding: the pristine world of an upper-crust, private girl’s high school and the world of a recently-returned soldier suffering from PTSD. The question is, will two girls break the rules of the private high school to save a man’s life?
Sylvia and Elizabeth, two seniors, the first the daughter of the headmistress, go into town one weekend to get ice cream not because they’re hungry but because they have nothing better to do. After 12 years of privileged education, having completed each task set before her, Sylvia wonders, “Is this all there is?” Begging for money outside the ice cream parlor is a middle-aged, bedraggled man. So begins a chance encounter that will change all of their lives.
At first, Sylvia and Elizabeth treat the ex-Marine-sergeant, Christopher, as a privileged person does a stray dog—the girls give him scraps: a few dollar bills. But over time, the girls start to wonder about him. How can a man who has served four tours in Iraq live in poverty on the grounds of a school that charges tens of thousands of dollars to attend each year? Should the privileged bear some responsibility? Then, when Sylvia is out for one of her marathon runs, she stumbles upon Christopher naked, bathing in the river. She is dumbstruck, thrilled, and scared. In his nakedness, he becomes more of a person to her. In the same vicinity, she discovers his encampment: a lean-to he’s constructed out of tightly-knit pine boughs on the school’s property. If she tells anyone, especially her mom, the police would chase Christopher off. Instead, Sylvia and Elizabeth take a secret, deeper role in Christopher’s life by bringing him canned food and a grill. Then, as the brutal, Connecticut winter approaches, the girls decide to steal warm clothes and camping supplies from the school—an act that would get them expelled. And when careless boys destroy Christopher’s encampment and unwittingly sentence him to death by cold, Sylvia has to decide whether to up the ante and risk everything she’s worked for for the past 12 years, or let a man die. Can this high-priced school for privileged girls abandon what it considers “correct” to reinvent itself as a school that does what is conscionable?
Davenport does a great job bringing both worlds to life, really, two encampments because the school is its own little, secluded world, with its own set of rules and values. We wonder, as Davenport writes in one remarkable line, whether the school will live by the rules that express what it was, or grow the rules to express what it wants to be. In this collision of worlds, when the smallness of the world Sylvia has lived in becomes apparent to her, she gets the answer to her question, “Is this all there is?”
There is beautiful writing throughout. Davenport has a way of writing characters that express unconventional thoughts in the most compelling ways. The risk the girls put themselves in carries the dramatic tension through the novel. Davenport, an ex-teacher and headmaster himself, also sneaks in what it looks like to be a great teacher.
The characters are fully fleshed out. Sylvia is our way into the novel because she, like us, the readers, have no deep understanding of what it is to live with PTSD. Davenport writes beautifully about PTSD and we learn along with Sylvia the sentence that PTSD exacts on people as we see Christopher struggle.
The world that we, the reader live in is like our own encampment with its sense of normality and rules. The novel is asking if we, like Sylvia, the privileged, would be brave enough to welcome these complicated individuals into our encampment or would we knock down their lean-to’s and run like the teenage boys? “Is this all there is,” is a question Davenport poses for the reader. What makes life worth living? Staying comfortable in our small, cocooned, privileged life, or living in a bigger world, seeing the humanity in all of us, and making a difference?
This is the third book of a trilogy but it very much stands on its own. It’s a treat. Read it.
Reviewed in the United States on July 25, 2020
Steve Davenport is a consummate educator. As a former teacher, advisor, coach, administrator, parent, and national spokesperson for liberal learning, Davenport knows the WHAT and the HOW of the school world from the inside.
However, in THE ENCAMPMENT, the third book in the SAVING MISS OLIVER’S trilogy, Davenport turns to the WHY of education. Two Grade 12 women are finding their voices for college and future life. When they meet a war-wounded homeless man, will they be empowered to think about social issues, or will they also take action? This question informs THE ENCAMPMENT in powerful and surprising ways.
If one likes school novels such as GOOD-BYE MR. CHIPS, THE RECTOR OF JUSTIN, or A PRAYER FOR OWEN MEANY, then THE ENCAMPMENT is a “must read.”
Saving Miss Oliver’s
“It is no surprise that Saving Miss Oliver’s is informed by a compassionate knowledge of people who inhabit independent schools. After all, the book’s author spent years teaching at and leading this kind of institution, and later was one of the nation’s top school consultants. He knows the territory.
What may surprise, though, is that the book is such a strong, beautifully wrought, engaging novel. As one reads along, it becomes clear that Davenport writes much too well and feels far too deeply for his complex and passionately human characters to resort to the hype and melodrama that so often maims ‘school novels.’ Rather, he creates his figures and then lets them live, struggle, and develop in ways that are frequently moving and always honestly related.
Inother words, the book steps beyond its genre. And in so doing, it reminds us that real people are at the heart of any first-rate school. Their integrity, strength of character, hope for the world and courage are the capital good schools are always built on. Davenport knows this. At the end of Saving Miss Oliver’s, so will you.”
− Peter Tacy, Former Executive Director of the Connecticut Association of Independent Schools and Head of the Marvelwood School, Kent, CT.
“SavingMiss Oliver’s is a fascinating novel, a school story vibrant withpersonalities, crises, hopes, idealism, laughter, tears, struggle and soaringspirit. Anyone wo has ever been a student or administrator or trustee or parentin a school will find the book riveting., and will stop again and again withrecognition, shock and delight. The reader will care intensely about thepersons and events in this book, the drama and comedy alive in it.”
– David Mallery, SeminarLeader and Consultant to schools in the U.S. and Abroad.
“Thisbook caught me by surprise -a surprise I would recommend to everyone.On the face of it, the story is about a difficult leadership transitionin a well-established girls’ school that is experiencing hard times. It is muchmore. Mr. Davenport weaves an intricate tapestry of institutional and culturalhistory, and minefields in independent school leadership. His characters jumpoff the page and made me keep reading to find out what they were thinking , how they developed, and what they did next. I was enthralled by the stories within the story and moved to tears by the strength and bravery of the characters who quickly becamemy friends and acquaintances. This is a story of struggle and disappointment, but most of all, it is a story about wisdom and hope.”
− Jessie LeeAbbott, Head of School, Katherine Delmar Burke School, San Francisco, CA.
SteveDavenport is a consummate schoolmaster and a gifted writer. In this splendid firstnovel, Davenport builds on all the other exceptional school novels: ThePrime of Miss Jean Brodie, The Rector of Justin, The Headmaster’s Papers andThe River King. Saving Miss Oliver’s, is a must read for anyone whoappreciates the seasons of a school’s life and the lives of people who makeschools work.
-Peter Buttenheim, Sanford School, Hockessin, DE.
“SteveDavenport’s novel is fast-paced, entertaining and singularly evocative of thepressure-cooker atmosphere of a boarding school. Steve knows schools, and he brings us face toface with their passions, their absurdities and their virtues – especially when itcomes to schools for girls.”
-Rachel Belash, Former Head of Miss Porter’s School, Farmington, CT.
No Ivory Tower
The years have gone forward and Rachel Bickham has become the new Head of School at Miss Oliver’s. Rachel is African-American which does not seem to be an issue with the otherwise mostly white staff and student body. No, the problem in the book is a father who is a Rush Limbaugh-like radio personality who has taken it on himself to denounce the supposedly decadent girls’ school because one of the students – who is actually 19 and probably should be in college – has taken an extra year at the school to produce art to get into Rhode Island School of Design. Claire – the student – had transferred to Miss Oliver’s the year previous after having been kicked out of her school for having an affair with a male teacher. Rachel Bickham and the school’s Board and teachers decide to defend Claire from the attacks from the radio host. Here’s where the stupidity comes in. Claire does not seem to be worth defending. She doesn’t seem worth putting the school’s reputation and fund-raising on the line. As written, Claire comes across as a brat, a whinging brat, who’d have been better off out of the school.
Much of the book’s plot is along the line of “what the hell”? Most of the characters are notable in the stupidity of how they’re handling the “situation” and makes it easy for this reader not to care what happens to them. This is different from Davenport’s first book, which received raves from people who knew about prep schools. (I have a fair amount of experience with private day schools, which I guess are different from boarding schools.).
Anyway, “No Ivory Tower” is not a great book. BUT, it’s also worth reading all the reviews on Goodreads and Amazon as other readers will have different opinions.
When I picked up Stephen Davenport’s ‘No Ivory Tower’, I was expecting something akin to the 1936 film ‘Girls’ Dormitory’, set in an all girls’ private school and centered on how the faculty deal with a potential scandal. I loved that movie, but it’s nothing compared to this book.
I was completely blown away by the highly intelligent, yet not at all pretentious, tone of this novel. “It was on the Monday morning of the second week of March that, somewhere between the subject and the verb of a long, convoluted sentence, Mitch Michaels first lost track of what he was telling his listeners.” Isn’t that a lovely phrase? Doesn’t it make you want to smile? Page after page, I found myself smiling at Davenport’s word choice and sentence structure, anxious to continue reading yet sad to near the end. This man has an incredible talent, and I look forward to picking up his first novel, the prequel ‘Saving Miss Oliver’s’ soon.
The characters are vivid, the setting quickly becomes home, and the situations are as dire to the readers as they are in the fictional world. The scene transitions keep up an urgent sense of time, reminding the readers that everyone’s actions are a part of the big picture. From the first few sentences, I was riveted and awed by Davenport’s language:
“Gregory van Buren, teacher of English, was more respected than beloved. His students would no more dare to be one minute late for his class than write ‘different’ when they meant ‘various’, or use ‘annihilate’ for destroy’, and when someone used ‘lay’ for the act of reclining in the present tense, he would actually lie down on the floor and deliver a lecture about transitive and intransitive verbs.
So Gregory’s heart sang when Rachel Bickham, his brand-new boss, started the first faculty meeting of the 1992 school year exactly at nine. It sang still more when she paused, mid-sentence in her start-of-the-year speech, and gave a look with precisely the right amount of amazement in it at the several teachers who straggled in at one minute after.”