Jim Zervanos, a seasoned high-school English teacher and father of two, embarks on a mission at the cusp of a new school year. He realizes that today's youth are thrust into a tumultuous world and burdened with saving it. To chronicle this extraordinary period in America, he assigns himself a unique task: keeping a journal.
Within its pages, we witness “his kids” grappling with pressing issues like identity politics, gun violence, and political uncertainty. A sophomore prodigy wrestles his demons onto the pages of his fiction before entering a psychiatric hospital. An estranged junior posts ominous threats on Snapchat, while a principal sabotages a student walkout. Meanwhile, in his classroom, Jim prepares a hiding space for an active shooter event and, back home, finds solace in the eulogy of his young sons’ pet fish, sent on its final journey with a flush.
By year's end, Jim, unwavering in his determination to inspire hope in his students, discovers that it's the youth who inspire hope in him. Their creativity and ideals paint a vivid portrait of an evolving America, seen through the kaleidoscope of Generation Z. Your Story Starts Here: A Year on the Brink with Generation Z is an intimate exploration of the challenges, resilience, and unwavering hope of today's youth in a turbulent world.
How to guide young people during times that confound us all? This era of bullying, sexting, active shooter drills, mental illness struggles, death threats, and persistent crisis? Jim Zervanos’s Your Story Starts Here: A Year on the Brink with Generation Z answers this question with a frank depiction of Zervanos’s days as a father to two young boys and as a creative writing teacher in a high school outside of Philadelphia. If his classroom lessons were distilled into commands, they would be: observe, go deeper, be empathetic. His parenting lessons: love, pay attention, be patient, and forgive. Even as an A+ student of his own teachings, he daily negotiates situations that require a careful balancing of his values. Watching Zervanos stay steady in unsteady waters, with good humor and strength, is the central pleasure of this moving, engaging book. I loved every page.
—Debra Spark, Author of Discipline
Your Story Starts Here offers an alternative to the polemics on public education: an insider’s view of the complex reality of a public high school in the United States in the 21st century. This book is as rich in humor and compassion as it is in dismay at the reality of school shootings and children ushered, sometimes forcefully and prematurely, into adulthood. These glimpses into the daily life of a husband, father, and English teacher give us reasons to be grateful that people like Jim Zervanos embrace the challenge.
—Peter Turchi, Author of Maps of the Imagination: The Writer as Cartographer
Masterfully paced and wonderfully rendered, Your Story Starts Here: A Year on the Brink with Generation Z is a slender gem, a book that should be required reading for parents, for teachers, for artists…for anyone who’s wondered what it means to be human in a world that daily challenges our humanity. It is a testament to Zervanos’s skill that we can’t help but be drawn into the lives we encounter: the students he mentors, the sons he parents, the wife he supports as she dives into her doctoral program. There’s never a false note rising from the deft, often lyrical prose that ferries us along in short, journal-entry-like chapters. The raw (often humorous) honesty on the pages is palpable. Zervanos ultimately pulls off the memoirist’s greatest sleight-of-hand; that is, he opens a ground-level window to the most intimate, vulnerable moments of his life, and as we peer through, we magically see pieces of our own lives reflected in the glass. This book is irresistible. (PS…Spoiler alert: Your Story Starts Here has a pitch-perfect final line.)
—Scott Gould, Author of The Hammerhead Chronicles and Idiot Men
High school students, full of anger and pain, come alive through their words and their teacher’s insights in this eminently readable memoir in essays as a teacher navigates his classroom, his family life and career at the same time. Packed with empathy as well as literary lessons, we have a front row seat to watch the world fall apart as these kids come of age. This book is insightful, heartfelt, and authentic. The world needs more teachers, and more writers, like Jim Zervanos.
—Kelly Simmons, Author of Not My Boy