BY: JENNIFER SOOSAR
Fresh out of a mental hospital, Lizanne Demeter is thrilled to get a second chance at her career when she’s hired to teach third grade in the backwater town of Splinter Wood, Pennsylvania. But hopes for a peaceful new life are ruined when Naomi Seabrook, a demanding “helicopter parent,” pushes Lizanne to the brink.
While struggling to maintain control of her classroom, Lizanne begins to unravel the secret behind Naomi’s hell-bent agenda. As deadly clues emerge, Lizanne suspects Naomi is guilty of more than just overindulging her child. With her life teetering on chaos, Lizanne risks everything to expose the shocking truth. But first, she must race against her own spiraling sanity to prove herself a more dedicated teacher than anyone dared imagine—the kind of teacher who makes ALL the difference.
TAYLOR JONES SAYS: In Parent Teacher Association by Jennifer Soosar, Lizanne Demeter is just out of a mental institution and thrilled to be given a second chance to teach. Although she would rather teacher kindergarten, she takes a position in a small town as a third grade teacher, since that is all she can get. But the position isn’t as lucky a plum as she thinks it is, and Lizanne begins to uncover some dark secrets, the discovery of which only adds to her disintegrating mental stability.
Soosar tells a chilling story of fanaticism, over-indulgence, and megalomania, with a totally unexpected ending. A poignant and compelling read.
REGAN MURPHY SAYS: Parent Teacher Association by Jennifer Soosar is the story of a young woman with mental problems. Lisanne Demeter is an elementary school teacher. It is all she wants to be. But she’s having trouble finding a teaching position due to a gap in her employment history—a gap due to a stay in a mental institution after she had a breakdown. But she has been declared “cured” by her doctors and is now on medication, so she is sure that she’ll be just fine. Desperate to get back in the classroom, Lisanne doesn’t question her luck when she’s offered a position as a third grade teacher in a small rural town and the principal doesn’t seem concerned about her mental stability. Teaching third grade isn’t her dream—she’d rather teach kindergarten—but with a promise of getting the kindergarten class next year, she happily takes the job. However, it doesn’t take long for Lisanne’s fragile grip on sanity to slip. Under the pressures of a non-supportive principal, an interfering mother, and a creepy school custodian, Lisanne begins to imagine dark secrets lurking beneath the schools civilized façade…or is it really her imagination?
Parent Teacher Association is a fascinating psychological mystery/thriller, with realistic and intriguing characters and some totally unexpected twists and turns you will never see coming. If you want an engrossing, entertaining, and touching story that will also tease your brain, this one is it.
Relax the breathing, Lizanne Demeter thought, you’re doing fine. She re-settled herself, smoothing out the wrinkles in her tropical print dress–cheap rayon, no wonder the whole rack was on clearance–and glanced at her coral-painted nails. Principal Ruth Cannon stoically studied the resume. It had been almost two minutes since the last question.
“You’re an avid reader,” Ruth said, looking up with raised eyebrows over a pitted face of acne scars.
Ruth’s eyes rested, waiting for more.
“Some true crime,” Lizanne added, wiping away the sweat that was building on her neck, “but not so much of those anymore…”
“Too disturbing, am I right?” Ruth said. “Dismal. God, depressing!”
Lizanne laughed. “Exactly.”
Even with all the windows open, the small office was sweltering, hot August air throbbing in.
Ruth peeled the front of her batik blouse away from her body and tented it to create a breeze. She continued staring at the resume.
What would the next question be? They’d discussed her education, goals, and personal interests, yet avoided the obvious. Lizanne squirmed with anxiety, knowing the inevitable inquiry into her professional experience was coming. There was a strong urge to blurt out something to fill the awkward hole, but she knew it would come out all wrong. It was best to wait, address the questions as they came, control her breathing, stay positive.
Her eyes wandered through the office. A half-empty tub of candy canes on the window ledge, a disorganized bookshelf, stacks of cardboard boxes on the floor, a framed Welcome Aboard! cruise ship portrait of Ruth in a tie-dyed wind suit posed–hand on a lifesaving ring–against an ocean backdrop.
The hot stillness was difficult. Lizanne wanted to wipe herself, take all her hot-rolled hair, and knot it up off her shoulders. Cicada beetles buzzed gravely outside the window, sounding like mini electric chairs. Mother of pearl, if she failed to get this job today it would be a complete–
“You live in Pittsburgh,” Ruth said. “That would be a long commute every day.”
“I plan on moving here, Ms. Cannon…well, if I get the job.”
“Call me Ruth, will you?” Ruth smiled warmly. “How does your family, or significant other, feel about moving to Splinter Wood?”
“I think you’ll fall in love with it here. Despite what anyone says, this is a wonderful town.”
“I’m not applying for any positions in the city,” Lizanne said, encouraged. I’m desperate to get out of Pittsburgh entirely.”
“Cities are stressful, aren’t they?”
Letting out the long breath, she’d been holding in, Lizanne laughed. “Yes.”
There! See, it’s going well. She’s not judging you.
Lizanne felt safe enough to sweep her long dark hair over to one side, making her neck instantly cooler.
“I’m sorry, but I must ask,” Ruth said gently. “This gap in your teaching experience. What have you been doing for the last seven months?”
Here it was. Lizanne nodded bravely and straightened up. Really, it was a relief to get this matter out of the way.
“Thanks for asking,” she said. “I’ll be honest with you…”
“Please do.” Ruth sat back, fanning herself slowly with the resume.
Lizanne, feeling her cheeks flush, took in a breath of flat air. “I spent some time in a mental health facility. It was a positive and helpful experience. I was able to sort out some…uh, issues and I’m…I’m happy to report that I’m healthy and well now.”
Ruth looked at her. “That’s excellent.”
“I’m currently on the correct medication for my symptoms and, honest to God, I feel great. Better than I have in my whole life! Gosh, I know that sounds bold but, well, that’s how I feel.”
“May I ask? What’s the medication you’re on?”
“Sure. It’s called Zedorn.”
Ruth clicked her pen and wrote it down. “Fine. Thank you.”
“It’s a new one. That’s why you might never’ve heard of it,” Lizanne said. “Supposed to be the latest and greatest–they say. All the doctors at the hospital were rah-rah for it.”
“Glad to hear it’s been a success, it’s activated a whole fresh start.”
“Yes! Lots of people think being in a mental hospital is, you know, something to be ashamed of but…it’s not. It helped me.”
Ruth nodded like mad, an agreeable smile frozen onto her face.
“I’ve got tons of energy,” Lizanne continued with confidence. “I’m bursting with energy! I’m excited about working again and I have oodles to offer the students at this school…” Hearing the words jumbling, she slowed herself down. “I’m passionate about teaching. It means absolutely everything to me…”
“I get that sense,” Ruth said. “It oozes out of you.”
“Thanks. Actually, it’s been difficult to find a job again. This is my tenth interview. Sorry, that’s too much information, isn’t it?”
“No, no. Not at all. In fact, I think you might be the perfect fit here, Lizanne–”
Interrupted by shouting outside the window, Ruth paused to notice some kids in bathing suits whizzing by on bicycles.
“Since it’s summertime,” Ruth continued, “I’m unable to contact your former principal at Moody Creek Elementary. Is there a personal reference I could call instead?”
“An old colleague,” Lizanne said, opening her purse to get the slip of paper with Beverley Packard’s name and phone number written down. “You can call her.”
She hoped Ruth was asking only as a formality and not planning to actually call Beverley Packard. But it was a good sign. None of the other interviews had gotten beyond the mental hospital thing.
Ruth stapled the slip of paper to the resume. “It’s funny,” she said. “While you’ve struggled to find a position, we’ve had trouble attracting a new teacher.”
That came as a surprise. Lizanne shook her head in amazement. Had she ever lucked out! There were dozens of unemployed teachers in Pittsburgh, all hungry for a position. Well, it was their loss! They either were too lukewarm to search for opportunities in small towns like Splinter Wood, or not committed enough to re-locate. Whatever the case, her zeal was paying off now.
“I’m speechless. This seems like a charming school. And the town, from the tiny bit I’ve seen, is quaint, and so green…”
Ruth narrowed her eyes and wobbled a pen between her thumb and forefinger. “I’m delighted you think so.”
A horrendous mechanical sound clacked on right then, overwhelming the sluggish quiet. Flinching, Lizanne turned. In the reception area of the main office, a man was gliding a floor-buffing machine along.
Ruth stood up and shouted over the noise, “Lenerd, not now! I’m conducting an interview in here!”
The chubby man with greasy waves slicked back from a receding hairline, flicked off the machine and came to lean in the open doorway of Ruth’s office. His hooded eyeballs–appearing supernaturally green against his sunburned skin–slithered over Lizanne’s body. Cheek twitching, he winked hello.
Tensing up, Lizanne looked away. She knew better now. She didn’t need to be interested in a man simply because he was interested in her.
“Sorry Miz Cannon,” he said. “I’ll come back later,” then, “Good luck, miss.”
“Our custodian, Lenerd,” Ruth said, sitting down.
“So listen, the position I need filled is for third grade. That doesn’t exactly meet your goal of teaching kindergarten…”
“Honestly, I just want to get back to teaching students. Of any age,” Lizanne said, hoping to appear as if flexibility came effortlessly.
In truth, third grade wasn’t so bad. Eight-year-old children were prepubescent, still young enough for her to shape and influence. Sure, it was a long way off from age five–the true cut-off as per the ‘first five years’ theory of child development she subscribed to–but children were individuals, learning and growing at different rates. Still, eight-years old was far from ideal. Only the most dedicated professional could, at the final hour, turn out a class of decent human beings. She felt up for the task.
“Terrific. I appreciate your willingness to cooperate,” Ruth said and scrawled a note on the top of the resume.
“May I ask…”
Looking up, Ruth stopped writing. “What is it?”
“Why have you had trouble? Finding a new teacher, I mean.”
Ruth put the pen down and tucked her wiry salt-and-pepper hair precisely behind her ears. “Oh, right. I was getting to that.” She tented her blouse. “Geez, it’s as hot as a blast furnace in here. I had a fan at one time, but it must’ve broken down…”
You shouldn’t have said anything, Lizanne thought. It was going perfectly fine.
“Not unlike anyplace else, I suppose, we’ve suffered our fair share of setbacks here at Battle Hill Elementary,” Ruth said. “In the last two years, we’ve lost two students in two fatal incidents, both unrelated. Sad. Unfortunate–”
Way to end this on a high note, you stupid fool.
“I’m sorry to hear that,” said Lizanne.
Ruth shrugged helplessly. “Neither accident was anybody’s fault. Just the sort of random, freak thing that can happen anywhere…” Her voice trailed off, and she shrugged again, dismissing the matter.
Shouting outside the window. The bicycle kids rode by–this time in the opposite direction–each holding a frozen popsicle.
Two, two, two, Lizanne thought. Two years, two students, two incidents. Strange. But then again, not so strange. These days, strange is normal, and normal is strange.
“We’ve had a hard time attracting someone qualified,” Ruth muttered, back to making notes. “The Department of Education went and changed the rules in May. You see, before, a tiny community like ours could hire anyone to teach elementary–as long as the candidate had a high school diploma. Now all new hires are required to be certified by the Department.”
“Small town life isn’t for everyone,” Ruth said, dropping the pen. “And some people–vegetarians, I assume–don’t enjoy the fact that Splinter Wood’s main employer is the Quincy-Agra slaughterhouse. That aside, the town still suffers from stigmatization from that isolated business years ago. Add in the two accidents here at school and, well, some applicants have felt squeamish.”
“Oh gosh, I don’t,” Lizanne said. “I don’t read anything into it at all. You could make yourself craz–you could jump to a lot of incorrect conclusions thinking that way.”
Ruth smiled. “See, you get it. You understand what it’s like to be stigmatized. Unfair, isn’t it?”
“I do appreciate your take,” Ruth said. “In being upfront, I’m taking the risk that you may judge us and continue your job search elsewhere. But I feel honesty is important.”
“Quick judgements are so often wrong. Usually based on ignorance,” Lizanne said, confidently meeting Ruth’s eyes. They found they were in strong agreement with each other.
“Gawd, I can’t stand this heat anymore. Why don’t we wrap this up? I’m thrilled to offer you the position, Lizanne. Since it’s so late in the summer, I can’t switch the classes around, but I’ll make you a deal. Prove you can fit in around here and, next year I’ll give you the kindergarten.”
Lizanne smiled brightly, her lips breaking across her teeth. She felt like laughing and crying at once. “Thank you so much, I mean it!”
Standing, Ruth pulled at the clothing, which had stuck onto her body. Lizanne did the same. They shook hands, not minding each other’s sweat, and walked slowly out of the office.
“First staff meeting is on August twenty-eighth,” Ruth said. “I’ll have the contract ready to sign, and you can access your classroom if you want to set anything up.”
“I’m grateful for the opportunity,” Lizanne said in the hallway. She heard the hum of the floor-buffing machine in some distant classroom.
“Think you can move here in time? The twenty-eighth is in five short days.”
“Absolutely. In fact, I’m headed straight over to the Belle Haven Apartments to tell the landlady that I’ll take that one bedroom.”
Ruth scrutinized her. “You wasted no time making arrangements…”
Lizanne realized her faux pas. How pathetically desperate she must have sounded to Ruth Cannon. She wondered if she should bother explaining that, for some unknown reason, she had a good feeling about Splinter Wood and inquired about an apartment an hour before the interview.
“Call me motivated,” Lizanne said, blushing. “I’m just dying to get back into the classroom and teach little kids again.”
Ruth wore a different expression now. “I’m impressed. I think you’ve found yourself a cozy home here.”
They were at the front entrance double doors, which were wedged open with garbage cans to allow fresh air in.
“One thing, Lizanne, just for some paperwork I need to fill out…”
“What was the reason you were treated in hospital?”
“Oh, right. You need to know why I was–”
Ruth waved her hand casually. “Just for the paperwork–insurance, whatnot.”
Lizanne relaxed her shoulders, reminding herself that she was better now, and life was good. Mother of pearl, she’d just been hired! Now she could discuss the past with casual detachment. Don’t hesitate.
“Certainly. It was…for a personal breakdown. A suicide attempt.”
“You poor thing,” Ruth said immediately. “I can sympathize. Been through major depression myself before. Fell into it after I lost the love of my life.”
Lizanne pressed a commiserating hand over her mouth in a gesture of mutual experience, but felt ridiculous doing so, like a fraud. Trying to end her life over a cockamamie fling gone sour was laughable compared to Ruth’s authentic heartache.
“You too, I see.” Ruth commented.
“Oh, I’ve moved on,” Lizanne said, laughing nervously. “A long time ago!”
“Well then, Lizanne, I’m glad to welcome you to Battle Hill Elementary School. We have some special students here that will grow up and do great things.”
© 2017 by Jennifer Soosar
Wall to Wall Books:
Wow! This is one you won’t want to miss! This story has just the right amount of creepiness to make it fun and interesting. This book has a kind of “Stepford Wives” feel – yeah! its creepy like that. A great, very original story-line mixed with excellent character development . This one would definitely make a good movie.
Lizanne was soooo weird! But I loved her! She is probably one of the strangest and snarkiest characters I have ever read about. Even with all her quirks she still managed to get into my heart. Its like my brain was saying – Noooo, she is too weird, but my heart was saying – awww come on, you know you love her! Then…the story goes totally off the wall with the whole prison romance! Like where did that come from? The whole time I am wondering “Where is this going, what does this have to do with the story?” Then – an “ah-ha” moment. I think I actually heard music in the back ground LOL. It all came together in the end. Great ending.This book is definitely a roller coaster ride all the way! If you love creepy, snarky, quirky, and very suspenseful stories – you will love this book! I do hope Jennifer Soosar continues to write because I certainly want to read more! ~ Wall to Wall Books ~ 5 Stars