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Friday, September 18, 2015

Girl Meets Class by Karin Gillespie (Author Guest Post / Book Review)

In association with Great Escapes Virtual Book Tours, Jersey Girl Book Reviews is pleased to host the virtual book tour event for Girl Meets Class by author Karin Gillespie!

Author Guest Post

The Real-Life Story Behind Girl Meets Class 

It was the early nineties, and I was at the Board of Education accepting my first teaching position in special education. Special education has a very high burnout rate—three years is the usual tenure. Even though I had no experience I had my pick of schools. I said to the supervisor, “Tell me about the high school position.”

“You don’t want to teach there,” she said. “Roughest school in town. The turnover is outrageous. You won’t last a week.”

It was as if I was standing on the edge of a jagged cliff overlooking a lake. I could stay safe and sound on terra firma or I could jump. All my life I’d only know upper middle class comforts, but there was a part of me that hungered for a different version of reality. To my surprise I said, “I’ll take the job!”

The first day I breezed into my classroom, traveling in a cloud of idealism and naiveté. My students stared at me with open mouthed silence; I thought I was mesmerizing them, but in reality they were stunned by my utter cluelessness. One of them was so stunned he threw a chair at me just to make it stop.

Not an auspicious start.

I taught at that school for ten years, and my time spent there is the inspiration for my novel Girl Meets Class. Writing from real-life can be a challenge and the worst thing that happened to me I left out of the novel but I managed to muddle through.

My protagonist is Toni Lee Wells, a Georgia peach, who has been living a freewheeling Tiffany and Wild Turkey lifestyle. Her wealthy family finally gets fed up with her shenanigans and cut off her monthly allowance but also make her a sweetheart deal: Get a job, keep it for a year, and you’ll receive an early inheritance. Act the fool or get fired, and you’ll lose it for good.

Toni Lee signs up for a fast-track Teacher Corps program. She hopes for an easy teaching gig, but what she gets is an assignment to Harriet Hall, a high school that churns out more thugs than scholars.

People who’ve read advance copies of the novel ask me, “Did all this stuff really happen to you?”

Of course not. It’s fiction, and Toni Lee is definitely not me. (She’s an ex pro tennis player, and I don’t know a double fault from a match point.) However many events in the book happened to me or one of my colleagues.

Some of you who know me from my Bottom Dollar series might say, “Wow! This is quite a departure for you.”

Not as much as you might think. Girl Meets Class touches on some tough subjects but it’s basically a lighthearted, fish-out-of-water story about a frivolous Southern belle who needs to learn that her world is bigger than the gated, privileged community in which she lives.

About The Author

Karin Gillespie is national bestselling author of five novels and a humor columnist for Augusta Magazine. Her nonfiction writing had been in the New York Times, The Writer Magazine and Romantic Times. She maintains a website and blog at Sign up for her newsletter on her website, follow her on Twitter or connect with her on Facebook.

Author Website

Book Review

Girl Meets Class by Karin Gillespie
Publisher: Henery Press
Publication Date: September 8, 2015
Format: Paperback - 266 pages
               Kindle - 526 KB
               Nook - 1 MB
ISBN: 978-1941962855
BNID: 2940151479080
Genre: Chick Lit / Southern Fiction / Women's Fiction

Buy The Book:

Disclaimer: I received a copy of the book from the author / publisher in exchange for my honest review and participation in a virtual book tour event hosted by Great Escapes Virtual Book Tours.

Book Description:

The unspooling of Toni Lee Wells’ Tiffany and Wild Turkey lifestyle begins with a trip to the Luckett County Jail drunk tank. An earlier wrist injury sidelined her pro tennis career, and now she’s trading her tennis whites for wild nights roaming the streets of Rose Hill, Georgia.

Her wealthy family finally gets fed up with her shenanigans. They cut off her monthly allowance but also make her a sweetheart deal: Get a job, keep it for a year, and you’ll receive an early inheritance. Act the fool or get fired, and you’ll lose it for good.

Toni Lee signs up for a fast-track Teacher Corps program. She hopes for an easy teaching gig, but what she gets is an assignment to Harriet Hall, a high school that churns out more thugs than scholars.

What’s a spoiled Southern belle to do when confronted with a bunch of street smart students who are determined to make her life as difficult as possible? Luckily, Carl, a handsome colleague, is willing to help her negotiate the rough teaching waters and keep her bed warm at night. But when Toni Lee gets involved with some dark dealings in the school system, she fears she might lose her new beau as well as her inheritance.

Book Excerpt:

The unspooling of my Tiffany and Wild Turkey lifestyle began with a trip to the Luckett County Jail. It was mid-July in Rose Hill, Georgia, and I was trapped in the backseat of a police car. The air inside was close and thick like sawmill gravy. Up front the radio crackled and hissed with static as the dispatcher announced the city’s Thursday night dark doings: a mugging, a domestic disturbance, and a pit-bull fight.

“Don’t you people have an armed robbery or a murder to go to?”

No response from behind the mesh barrier. Might as well have been a mute mosquito.

The law enforcement center loomed over the hill, a tombstone-colored tower leaking a sickly, yellow light. First time I laid eyes on the place I scared myself silly, imagining strip searches, filthy cells and sadistic wardens. This time the sight barely made me flinch.

Here we go again, I thought.

We arrived, and the cops hustled me out of the car and into a processing room. It contained a haphazard collection of utilitarian desks and smelled like dirty feet. A stout policewoman lumbered toward me. She had a gray front tooth and a sprig of hair creeping out of her nostril. I wasn’t her typical customer, and she was sizing me up.

I tried to see myself through her eyes: A twenty-one year-old blonde, blinking and stumbling in the harsh fluorescent lights, wearing a strapless pink party dress, gold gladiator sandals, and diamond drop earrings.

Maybe she was imagining what kind of car I drove—a cherry-red Porsche Boxter convertible—or who my people were. Likely she’d heard of my family’s company and probably had a few cans of Cornelia’s Southern-Style lima beans or black-eyed peas collecting dust in her pantry. Most everyone in America did.

I was photographed and fingerprinted. The cop confiscated my python clutch and peered at the contents, a lipstick in a plum shade called Promiscuous and a Platinum Visa in the name of Toni Lee Wells. If only I could give her that card and make my latest blunder go away.

She glanced up from my clutch and gave me a look that could freeze vodka. It seemed to say, “I don’t care who you are, princess. Now you belong to me.”

The cop gestured for me to follow her. We were headed in the opposite direction of the holding cells. For a brief panicky moment I wondered if she was taking me to some secret dark room where repeat offenders were taught a lesson with a rubber hose. Instead I was led to a dank narrow hallway with a stone bench. “Sit,” she said. “Someone’s on the way to pick you up.”

I was relieved, naturally, but also curious. Who was coming? It’s not like I’d called anyone. After a few minutes my father approached, wearing a pair of wrinkled camouflage pants and a John Deere cap.

Daddy hugged me with his meaty arms, wrapping me in his scent, oak chips mixed with perspiration. The embrace went on for more than a minute. It was as if I’d been released from a ten-year stay in a Turkish prison instead of a brief jaunt to jail.

“Let’s get out of here,” he said.

Outside bloated clouds scudded overhead; the sky seemed close enough to touch. A jacked-up, emerald-green Cadillac roared past us, its frame shimmying with the bass from a rap song. I climbed into the refuge of my daddy’s Land Rover. His yellow Lab, Beau, pounced on my lap and bathed my cheeks with warm, liver-snap scented saliva.

“How’d you know I was here?”

My daddy’s freckled scalp shone through his thinning red hair. “Sibbie Stevens saw you being put into the back of a police car outside Bistro 91. Public intoxication, Toni Lee? What did you do?”

“Nothing. Just fell asleep. That’s not a crime.”

Not unless you were operating heavy equipment, which I wasn’t. Just my iPhone a few minutes before I passed out.

“Fell asleep where?”

“In the bar. It was just a little catnap. Don’t know why they felt they had to call the law.”

That wasn’t the whole story, but no need to share all the damning details. Before I hit the ground, I’d been singing along to a Katy Perry song on my phone, maybe a little too loudly and probably off-key. The usual bartender, Rita, was out sick and a snippy substitute was working in her place. The sub asked me to cut out the singing, and I tried to loosen her up by asking her to dance with me. Somehow I ended up knocking over a couple of highball glasses on the bar. Then I got dizzy and the next thing I remember was a cop pulling me up from the floor.

It’d have never happened if Rita had been on duty. Whenever I got a little wobbly in my shoes, she always took good care of me. In exchange I made sure she went home with a nice fat tip tucked into her pocketbook.

No more shots of Cuervo Gold, I thought. I’d only started drinking heavily a few months ago and was still learning the ins and outs of alcohol. Tequila was in a class by itself. No wonder they called it to-kill-ya.

On the way home, my father’s silence was so loud he might as well have been yelling at me. I was grateful when his Land Rover sailed through the security checkpoint at the entrance of Country Club Hills. The car came to a stop in front of my condo, and he gripped the steering wheel so hard his knuckles were white.

I broke the silence between us. “I don’t know what got into me tonight, but it was a one-time thing. It’ll never happen again.”

By then I felt completely sober. A trip to jail was a guaranteed buzzkill.

Daddy gave me a hard look. “One-time thing, huh?”

I nodded vigorously.

“That’s odd because according to one of the officers you’re practically a regular at the jail. Few more trips and they’ll be naming a cell after you.”

“Two trips hardly makes me a—-”

“It’s not just that,” he continued. “You’ve been out of control for months. I’m still getting calls about that terrible thing you did to Baby Bowen at Lois Atkins’ funeral.”

I’d never live that stunt down. Ten years from now people would probably still be talking what I’d done to Baby Bowen at that funeral.

“Maybe you ought to give that Dr. Lyons another try.”

I wrinkled my nose. Dr. Lyons had white carpet in his office and made me take off my shoes before I was given permission to enter. During our visit, he kept squirting Purell into his hands. He seemed crazier than I could ever aspire to be.

Daddy was scratching Beau’s ears, waiting for me to speak.

“Forget Dr. Lyons.”

He let out a heavy exhale of air.

“I understand why you’re acting out like this. Anyone in your situation probably would, and I’m the first to sympathize. But here’s the thing—”

“I’m tired. Can we talk about this another time?”

“Toni Lee.”

“It’s really late. You should get back to bed.” I patted his arm. That’s when I noticed a faded yellow bruise on his bicep.

“What did you do to yourself this time?” My father was the most accident-prone man I’d ever met. He was forever running into doors or tripping on loose stones. If there was a banana peel within a ten-mile radius he’d find it and slip on it.

“Don’t try change the subject.”

I kissed his cheek. “Goodnight, Daddy.”

“This is serious.”

I mussed his wispy hair and flounced out of the car.

“Toni Lee!”

I ignored him and sprinted to my condo, a replica of a three-story Italianate villa divided into six residences.

Inside it was bright and noisy. As usual I’d left on every light, and the television blared with a commercial advertising a Chevy Truck Blow-Out sale. I hurried to the kitchen and popped open a bottle of Zin Your Face, a California Zinfandel. I chose wines with funny names; it made alcohol seem tame and friendly, like Hi-C with a kick. One glass, I thought. I surveyed the contents of my cupboards and chose a brandy snifter the size of a baby’s head.

I filled the glass to the brim and moved to the living room, plunked down in front of the large screen TV, and shoved Texas Chainsaw Massacre into the Blu-ray player. I was addicted to horror movies, the gorier the better. They helped put problems into their proper perspective. Yes, my life might have recently taken an unlucky turn but at least I wasn’t being chased by a chainsaw-wielding maniac. In fact, if I was a shrink and one of my patients was having a meltdown, my advice would be to watch Evil Dead 2 and call me in the morning.

My Book Review:

If you are looking for a Southern Chick Lit / Women's Fiction story that has a mixture of sass and poignancy, then look no further, Girl Meets Class is the book for you.

Toni Lee Wells is a twenty-one year old Georgia peach from a well-to-do family. Toni Lee was an aspiring tennis professional, whose career was prematurely cut short when she suffered a permanent injury to her wrist. Tennis was her passion and the loss of her career sent her life spiraling out of control with outrageous spending sprees, heavy drinking, and numerous run-ins with the law for public intoxication. After six months of her endless aimlessness and being out of control, Toni Lee's father and Aunt Cornelia have had enough and decide it is time to implement harsh measures, and teach Toni Lee a life lesson from the school of hard knocks. They take away her very generous monthly allowance, her rent free luxurious condo, and credit cards. Aunt Cornelia gives Toni an ultimatum: get a respectable job, keep the job for one year, stay out of trouble, and she will receive an early inheritance in the amount of five million dollars. With a tennis career gone and a college degree in general studies, Toni Lee attends a career fair and applies for The Teaching Corps, an accelerated teacher training program with a goal to secure a teaching job in the local school system while completing the program. She accepts a special education teaching position at Harriet Hall High School, an inner city high school. So what's a spoiled Southern belle to do when she suddenly finds herself on an unexpected adventure with a difficult challenge that could make or break the lifestyle as she has known it?

Author Karin Gillespie weaves a wonderful lighthearted tale set in Rose Hill, Georgia that follows Toni Lee Wells' journey of self-discovery. Told in the first person narrative by Toni Lee, the reader follows the sassy young lady's adventure into a side of life that she wasn't born and raised in, it's a journey that will open her eyes to what is really important, and teach her a lesson that will ultimately change her life.

I really enjoyed the intertwining of humor and poignancy in the storyline, you can't help but get caught up in Toni Lee's journey as this spoiled young lady learns about the world outside the privileged community that she has grown up in. I really was not a fan of Toni Lee in the beginning of the story, but I did grow to like her as she made a transformation when she encountered the challenges and issues at the inner-city school. I really enjoyed how the author utilized her previous experience as a high school special education teacher to weave a story that is realistic and touches upon the challenges of the inner-city school system and social issues, yet also shows how passionate special education teachers really are.

Girl Meets Class is an entertaining feel-good story that will leave a smile on your face.


Virtual Book Tour

Click on the above link for a list of the tour participants.


  1. Thanks so much for your lovely review! Karin Gillespie

    1. Hi Karin! Thank you for the opportunity to read, review, and host your virtual book tour event for Girl Meets Class. I really enjoy reading Southern Fiction, and look forward to reading more of your books. :)