Volunteers for Literacy by Gretchen Elhassani: A Book Review

12 01 2013

When I agreed to review Volunteers for Literacy by Gretchen Elhassani I assumed it was going to be a non-fiction book hoping to enlighten the readers about the plight of illiteracy in America. I was excited to review the book because helping illiterate people become literate is something very near, and dear to my heart. Imagine my surprise when I opened the kindle file and the cover was of a dangerous man with red eyes glaring over a stack of burning books. I checked to make sure I opened the right file and then checked it again. Volunteers for Literacy wasn’t a dry pamphlet but a thriller.

Despite its prim name, Volunteers for Literacy is exactly what a thriller should be: sensationalistic, fast paced, and violent. It is like a Clint Eastwood movie, sometimes the plot is implausible and a little too convenient but it is entertaining as hell.

The book starts out with Amanda Smith a single parent working at the local fast food joint to pay the bills and support her little girl, Jesse. Amanda works hard at the Burby-Q and looks out for her colleagues. She also wants a better life and a better job which she can’t achieve because she can’t read. Amanda’s compassion for her coworkers and her desire to learn to read set the whole book in motion. When Amanda’s co-worker, Sara goes missing, Amanda is compelled to find her. Amanda looks for Sara at the local library where Sara sometimes hangs out. While she is there Amanda learns about an adult education class which tutors illiterate people. Amanda signs up for the tutoring and goes home without any more information about Sara.

The reader finds out that Sara has been kidnapped because her boyfriend blabbed to her about a bank robbery he is involved in and the crew leader doesn’t like any loose ends. The bank robbery goes awry and the robbers are forced to take refuge in the public library- where Amanda is being tutored- and she recognizes the robbers as clients at the Burby-Q the day that Sara went missing. Amanda decides that in order to get out of the library and to help Sara, she has to befriend the bank robbers and help them escape so they can lead her to where Sara is being held hostage. Amanda befriends a homeless man, who is also ex-military and the head librarian in her quest to outwit the bank robbers.

Sounds a little crazy, right? Reading through Volunteers for Literacy I felt myself struggling deal with how implausible the whole thing would be. I am not sure that the theme of helping illiterate people melds well with a thriller about bank robbing murderers. What was most shocking is that in the end everything turned out all right. Amanda got to go to college; Sara is rescued by Amanda and is sent home safe and sound. The military man, Joe, sobers up and the head librarian tricked the bank robbers and made off with all the money without the police (or anybody else) looking for the loot. Volunteers for Literacy is a violent book and to end it like a Brady Bunch script seemed a too pat. That isn’t to say that I wasn’t happy with the ending. Everybody likes it when the hero’s win and the bad guys are punished but it wasn’t believable.

In the end though, I ate Volunteers for Literacy up like cotton candy. It was a lighthearted and fun read akin to a good episode of Law and Order. If you need a good beach read or airplane book- strap yourself in with Volunteers for Literacy and have a killer time.

If you want to buy Volunteers for Literacy go to Amazon.com or Barnes and Noble.

You can find out more about Gretchen Elhassani and her books on Goodreads or on her blog: http://publottery.blogspot.com

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2 responses

12 01 2013
Doug Oldfield

The book you described sounds interesting. I think I’ll pick up a copy. Thanks for writing about it. 🙂

14 01 2013
Gretchen

Thank you so much for doing this review!

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