Rigged is a new young adult novel about a teen, Fisher Haskins, and his search for friendship and direction that school in the Florida Keys doesn’t give him. He does, however, take pride in his work washing boats and his knowledge of fishing. As the narrator of the story, Fisher also impresses us with his self-awareness, his stifling fears, and the struggles in his head, heart, and body. His dad, a popular captain of a fishing boat for tourists, died in a car accident the year before the story starts and Fisher and his mom are still trying to sort out all their feelings about him and his legacy.
The characters are drawn largely through dialog, which makes for lively exchanges. But it is Fisher’s unspoken thoughts and feelings that move the story into deeper emotional territory, such as his angst of being a nice guy but perceived by his peers as dumb because he doesn’t do well in school:
Fisher’s dad was an alcoholic and he, his mother, and their friends all seek ways to reconcile his Dad’s good nature with his bad habit after he dies. While describing the characters and scenery of the Keys, Fisher also provides us with his insight, a talent he develops in stages throughout the book. While Fisher feels that life is rigged against him, and the various incidents he experiences support that interpretation, he doesn’t give up and rail against his plight. He takes comfort and pride in his boat-washing work, discusses issues about his life with friends who work in the boatyard, and uses his imagination to solve the various problems he encounters.
It’s not a book about unschooling, per se, but at its heart it is. Fisher is not engaged by school nor understood by his teacher — she gives him an F+ on a test thinking she is positively supporting his effort but it instead sends Fisher into depression. Fishing and boating give him a supportive community of adults, many with their own flaws that Fisher is aware of, but who embrace Fisher and help him as best they can.
And Fisher needs the help as he navigates the dangerous currents of being bullied, courting his first girlfriend, getting in trouble for something he didn’t do, and getting people to believe in his weighted rig.
It’s always a pleasure to read a book about young people that shows how they come to understand and accept or change their behavior without the need for strong adult intervention. Fisher’s developing self-reliance and his conversations with other adults and young people show how teens (or anyone) can learn and grow in spite of their difficulties. Fisher also acknowledges the help he receives from people and reciprocates, unlike some of the teens he knows who simply expect their privileged lives to continue because they do well in school or sports.
Self-directed learning isn’t just about doing what you want to do: it’s also about becoming a self-aware person who is comfortable in their life and work and seeks and helps build support for themselves and others. Rigged is a novel about life’s messiness and how a teenager’s life can be more meaningful and liberating than getting a good grade in school. This is the first novel published by the Alliance for Self-Directed Education’s Tipping Points Press and I hope there are more to come.