I don't know how I discovered "The Grounding of Group Six" by Julian Thompson. I don't remember. I know that it happened in high school sometime, but unlike my discovery of "The Changeover", my discovery of "Group Six" is clouded by the fog of the past.
But I did.
Thank God. Because "Group Six" is the book that showed me how to write multiple characters and points of view.
And it's just plain awesome.
"Group Six" is the story of five teenagers, each of whom is sent to a boarding school for not living up to their parents' expectations. It's a little Breakfast Club in the set-up - one of the kids is a delinquent, and one is a hippie chick, and one is even a nerd (and her story is particularly heartbreaking, let me tell you) - but these kids aren't stereotypes. Their backstories feel genuine and real. These are kids you could know.
Anyway, because of their various problems with their parents, they are sent to a boarding school to become better kids...or so they think. I would tell you what happens to them, but that would blow some of the originality of the idea at the center of the book. I will tell you that it's not a typical "kids go to boot camp and come out changed" story.
So the plot is original and awesome, but that's not the best part of the book. The best part is the characters. Although there are five kids and their camp counselor at the heart of the story, and no true protagonist, each of the characters is developed and three dimensional. Their relationships with one another start prickly and defensive, but thaw realistically and in stages the way that real relationships move from their initial meetings to friendships to romance (in some cases).
Because the story is told from six points of view, it could easily become muddled or confused. It would be equally easy for Thompson to cross the line and make one of the characters too unlikeable, or too perfect, and throw the whole book off balance. It would be even more easy to make the characters too much alike, so they all blend into one another. But he doesn't. While each character is unique, and each has his or her unlikeble points (some more than others), the reader comes away with genuine affection for each of them, even when they are annoying or do stupid stuff or make mistakes.
(My own personal example - the camp counselor's name is Nat, and he's one of those hippy dippy "nature is good" guys that is always interested in talking about people's feelings and stuff. That type of person really annoys me. Now Thompson could set Nat up to be Super Perfect and awesome and everyone could love him automatically, but he doesn't. Instead, several of the other kids find him hippy dippy and annoying, just like I do. They eventually come to like and respect him, but I the reader can tell that those particular kids are never going to be BFFs with Nat, just like I wouldn't. I could like and respect someone like that, especially in the situation that the kids are put in, but I wouldn't ever become best friends with him. His personality and mine just don't mesh.
On the other hand, if you were the type of person who did like the hippy dippy Nature Man, but didn't appreciate the smartass snotty rebel type, then you would be able to identify with Nat and adore him, while feeling a little dislike for one of the kids named Coke, but you would still get an understanding of where Coke was coming from, and why Nat thought he was a good kid. That's another aspect of the genius of the book - there's a kid in there for almost every reader to like or dislike and come to know. Again, I refer you to The Breakfast Club.
And, Jesus, this is, like, the longest parenthetical note in the history of the world! Sorry. Done, now.)
Thompson went on to write some other books, none of which I have read, tragically. I'm putting them all on my library list to check out (I only buy books I already like, which is an awful thing for an aspiring author to say, but books are expensive and I can't afford to buy every thing that looks interesting when so many of them let me down. In justification, I do buy all the ones I like, and that's about 30 books a year. And again with the parenthetical. I'm apparently in a parenthetical mood today.). But as far as I'm concerned, if he never wrote another book, he wouldn't need to. Because "Group Six" has it all.