Hummingbirds chronicles a year in the life of the Carmine-Casey School for Girls, a prep school on Manhattan’s Upper East Side. Part Prime of Miss Jean Brodie and part Virgin Suicides, the novel offers a dual perspective on the intimate, tempestuous and frequently incestuous private school community. The plot centers on two parallel rivalries. On one hand there is the popular student Dixie Doyle, who wears ironic pigtails and heads a group of preternaturally coquettish girls, and her adversary, the self destructively smart girl Liz Warren, who writes plays based on the Oresteia and rolls her eyes at Dixie from the back of the classroom. On the other hand there is the adored Binhammer, who has for years been the only male teacher in the English department, and his rival, Hughes, the charismatic new faculty member who threatens to usurp Binhammer’s position at the school and in the hearts of the girls. As the book unfolds, these two worlds intersect—the adult world becoming irresistibly seductive to the girls, and the dewy haze of teenage girlhood becoming a trap into which the flailing teachers fall. The web holding these characters together is an intricate one, full of envy, sadism, and juvenile eroticism.
IndieBound Indie Next Notable, November 2009
Daily Beast Hot Read
Hummingbirds is a sly, charming novel about the students at a Manhattan girls' school and the adults who sometimes remember to teach them. Those of us who love Muriel Spark's The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie will now have to make room next to it on our shelves for Joshua Gaylord's winning debut.
—Brock Clarke, author of An Arsonist's Guide to Writers' Homes in New England
Provocative and well-written.
Especially good at characterization, Gaylord has delivered a story that's ripe with acute and wry observations on men and women, competition, sexuality, and secrets. He's created a slippery slope, but readers will find the terrain surprisingly navigable as the novel ends. Highly recommended.
The book is a languishing and lovely read about the people who spend their days in the hallowed halls of Carmine-Casey, and sometimes their evenings as well. It is also about what they do when they leave these hallowed halls. It is about friendship, gender, age, love, sex and wanting—wanting to be something different, something that is colorful and special, that all will notice and admire.
—Bonnie Brodie, MostlyFiction Book Review
Hummingbirds positively glistens with erudition and insight. Whether writing about prep school girls or the adult men who walk among them, Gaylord's stunning writing elevates his subject matter with equal parts humanity and elegance.
—Jonathan Tropper, author of How to Talk to a Widower
In Gaylord’s winning debut, teenage girls and their male teachers vie for power at a Manhattan prep school. The author, himself a teacher at a Manhattan prep school, is a keen observer of this privileged world. He captures [the adult] point of view in such lush language that readers might overlook his shrewd, subtle presentation of the students. A very grown-up novel about adolescence and the folly of adults, by an impressive new voice in American fiction.
—Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
If you're the kind of smart reader who likes complex . . . grown-up books where people have complicated relationships and are confronted by morally ambiguous choices, this book is a must read.
Keenly plotted and psychologically acute, this novel thrums with deceptions great and small—what we don't tell each other, and what we won't admit to ourselves.
—Ed Park, author of Personal Days
The Carmine-Casey prep school girls flutter through Gaylord's debut, but they're not alone; their teachers are insecure flirts and cheats amid divorces and trysts. . . . [T]he complicated web of loyalties, attraction, competition and camaraderie provides much tension as things play out—but not in an expected way. . . . Gaylord's tale of overeducated men and the teenage students who exhibit the finesse and understanding their teachers lack hits all the right notes.
A Nabokovian Gossip Girl that is refreshingly smart in how it is less about the labels and more about the lust exhibited by students and teachers. . . . There are male authors who write such believable female characters and conversations that you know they must have some female friend informing the editing process. . . . What’s even more impressive about Gaylord’s female insights is that they are mostly about teenaged females, an even more elusive breed. . . . Hummingbirds entertains with an intellectual edge that will surely satisfy the educated reader wanting some fun.
—Connie White, The Dartmouth