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Extended Audio Sample Ms. Hempel Chronicles, by Sarah Shun-lien Bynum Click for printable size audiobook cover
3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 3.00 (1,071 ratings) (rate this audio book) Author: Sarah Shun-lien Bynum Narrator: Tavia Gilber Publisher: Blackstone Audio Format: Unabridged Audiobook Delivery: Instant Download Audio Length: Release Date:
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Ms. Beatrice Hempel, a seventh-grade teacher, is new to teaching, new to the school, newly engaged, and newly bereft of her devoted father. Overwhelmed by her newness, she struggles to figure out what is expected of her in life and at work. Is it acceptable to introduce swear words to the English curriculum, enlist students to write their own report cards, or bring up personal experiences while teaching a sex education class?

Sarah Shun-lien Bynum finds characters at their most vulnerable and then explores those precarious moments in sharp, graceful prose. This is a journey down the rabbit hole to the wonderland of middle school, memory, daydreaming, and the extraordinary business of growing up.

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Quotes & Awards

  • “Utterly winning…[Bynum] creates a seamless, intuitive novel of short stories…Each is a small gorgeous thing on its own, but the wise and whimsical Ms. Hempel Chronicles gives them their collective due, deploying them on a broader canvas, their colors more layered, their impact more powerful.”

    New York Sun

  • “When I opened this utterly charming novel, I fell in love with it.”

    Washington Post

  • “A marvelous new book…Each of these eight stories dazzles on its own terms; all together they create a stunning portrait of an unforgettable character at a crossroads.”

    San Francisco Chronicle

  • “Bynum’s first novel, the dreamlike Madeleine is Sleeping, was a finalist for the National Book Award, but it’s her second book that’s the real miracle…With each chapter, Bynum adds to her portrait of Ms. Hempel, quietly offering us small jewels of information that transform her into a complex and disarming character…Bynum is an inventive writer with talent to spare.”

    Arizona Republic

  • “Teachers, take note: You’ve got an articulate new advocate in novelist Sarah Shun-lien Bynum. Bynum’s Ms. Hempel Chronicles is not only a warmhearted novel-in-stories about a young seventh-grade teacher navigating the final passage to her own adulthood even as she ushers her students through the tricky narrows of adolescence; it is also a testament to how hard—and important—the work of teaching is.”

    Christian Science Monitor

  • “A National Book Award finalist in 2004, Bynum returns with an intricate and absorbing collection of eight interconnected stories about Beatrice Hempel, a middle school English teacher…Bynum’s sympathy for her protagonist runs deep, and even the slightest of events comes across as achingly real and, sometimes, even profound. Bynum writes with great acuity, and the emotional undercurrents in this sharp take on coming-of-age and growing up will move readers in unexpected ways.”

    Publishers Weekly (starred review) 

  • “[Gilbert’s] performance is perfectly suited to the writing…For anyone who has worked with or taught young adolescents, this is a delicious glimpse into life from their point of view.”


  • “Bynum’s second novel provides a narrative voice as unique and engaging as that in her award-winning debut, Madeleine Is Sleeping (2004)…Rather than focus on the major events of Ms. Hempel’s current life, including a broken engagement and the death of her father, Bynum instead uses these as a net to cradle smaller, more telling moments—a troublemaker buried in sand on class “beach day,” a magic routine at the talent show, dancing with colleagues at happy hour. Bynum dares to put much stock in these small moments and in the dreamy perspective of her heroine, and the result is charming without being quirky. This tightly composed novel favors character over a traditional narrative…The attention to detail is spectacular.”


  • “The idea that we’re all just aging, idiosyncratic children snatching at happiness is central to Ms. Hempel Chronicles, Sarah Shun-lien Bynum’s gently, deeply affecting second novel…Ms. Hempel’s consciousness is a joy to inhabit.”


  • “Subtle, dazzling…There is so much elliptical richness in the multifaceted character of Ms. Hempel that every chapter in this short, taut novel brings revelation…No sign of sophmore slump in this masterful illumination of character.”

    Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

  • A 2009 PEN/Faulkner Award Finalist
  • A 2008 Los Angeles Times Best Book for Fiction
  • One of the Kirkus Reviews’ Best Books Kirkus Reviews’ Best Books for Fiction

Listener Opinions

  • 2 out of 52 out of 52 out of 52 out of 52 out of 5 by Laurie | 2/6/2014

    " Maybe I wasn't in the mood for this book, but I'm in the middle of the book when I finally realize the main character is Asian. Important? No, but the book wasn't going anywhere either.... I have to admit that I put the book down with 40 pages to go. "

  • 3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 by Melinda | 1/31/2014

    " This collection of stories posing as a novel had some problems. I don't know any seventh grade teacher who would teach To Kill a Mockingbird, This Boy's Life, or Romeo and Juliet. Ms. Hempel's argument "justifying" the language of the Wolfe autobiography would never cut the mustard with parents of my seventh graders. Also, Ms. Hempel is an English teacher, but it was obvious that Ms. Bynum could have used an English teacher to assist with grammar, at least to explain how to use colons properly. That being said, this novel did have its moments. I could identify with Ms. Hempel's gruesome daydream about breaking something that would require a full body cast and thus release her from her teaching career. There is some truth in her observation that teaching "had rendered her unfit for everything else." I have felt the deep tenderness she describes as I've watched students pour over yet another standardized test. Some of the observations are valid even if the character is a bit wonky. Bynum seems to me a writer in the vein of Lorrie Moore and Elizabeth McCracken. The generous critic believes her best work is yet to come. "

  • 1 out of 51 out of 51 out of 51 out of 51 out of 5 by Azalea | 1/29/2014

    " This book was mostly very dull. "

  • 3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 by Hannah Jo Parker | 1/24/2014

    " A novel in the form of interconnected short stories that I was quite taken with at first, but then I sort of lost interest. I did finish it, though. Good writing and interesting main character, but the format of the book created some distance that kept me from getting caught up in the story/ies. "

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About the Author
Author Sarah Shun-lien Bynum

Sarah Shun-lien Bynum’s first novel, Madeleine Is Sleeping, was a finalist for the National Book Award in 2004. Her fiction has appeared in the New Yorker, Time, House, Georgia Review, and Best American Short Stories. She teaches writing at the University of California–San Diego and lives in Los Angeles with her family.