In John McNally’s new novel, America’s Report Card, 24-year-old Charlie Wolf, fresh out of the University of Iowa with a master’s in film studies, jumps onto the fast track by taking an entry-level job grading standardized tests. Luckily for him, his hot, sexually ravenous Russian girlfriend gets a job along with him, but after she ditches him for a doctor and splits for Chicago, Charlie arranges for a transfer to track her down. There, he hooks up with the author of a disturbing essay he’d graded: willful, foulmouthed, politically astute Burbank teenager Jainey O’Sullivan, who’s certain her art teacher has been offed by the feds for subversion. An unlikely pair, Charlie and Jainey soon discover that there’s a lot more at stake in the nation’s standardized testing program than just college admissions. As in McNally’s previous novel, The Book of Ralph, there’s a lot of humor here–but it’s shot through with a decidedly sinister undercurrent. Remember when your grade-school teacher threatened, “This can go down on your permanent record”? In McNally’s world, it probably did. Fri 7/21, 7:30 PM, Book Cellar, 4736 N. Lincoln, 773-293-2665. Sat 7/22, 2 PM, Borders Express, Chicago Ridge Mall, Ridgeland and 95th, Chicago Ridge, 708-424-9190.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Amy Knox Brown.