The Education of Jake Semple

Surviving the Applewhites

Jake is labeled—and trying to prove it—an incorrigible delinquent. He’s been expelled from schools and foster homes in two states and his grandfather has given up on him. His parents are in prison and it looks as if he’s headed there, too, but Lucille, the poet and incurable optimist of the Applewhite family, thinks he’s a prime candidate for their state-certified home-schooling “Creative Academy.”

Jake is on the porch with E.D., the 13-year-old Applewhite daughter who has warned him their property is no-smoking, while the social worker and other adults are discussing Jake’s placement indoors.

…[He] was stuck with a bunch of strangers who just didn’t get it that he wasn’t going to do what he didn’t want to do. He would just have to show them!… The smoking part was going to be a problem, though. This was his last pack of cigarettes. It was miles to town, and out here in the North Carolina boonies there was no such thing as a bus. He squinted at the smoke that was blowing back at him now.

…Jake’s grandfather came out of the house, a fat dog—a Bassett hound—with ears so long it nearly walked on them with every step, waddling at his heels. The Applewhite adults were right behind.

The oldest of them, a wiry old man with white hair and a droopy mustache, pushed his was through the others and headed straight for the wooden rocking chair in the corner of the porch. On his way he snatched the cigarette our of Jake’s hand so fast Jake didn’t know what had happened until it was being ground out on the porch floor under the old man’s shoe…

When the voices faded away, it was quiet on the porch except for the snoring of the dog. The old man stuck out his hand toward Jake. “Zedediah Applewhite, patriarch of the Applewhite clan,” he said. “How do you do?”

Jake looked at the wrinkled, spotted, knobbly old hand. He was not about to shake the hand that had snatched one of his precious cigarettes.

But he didn’t have a choice. The old man grabbed his hand and shook it in both of his, nearly crushing Jake’s fingers in an amazingly powerful grip. “Welcome to Wit’s End—Furniture Factory, Gallery, Studio, Goat Compound, and Creative Academy,” Zedediah Applewhite said.

When the old man let go, Jake shook his hand to make sure blood could still get to the tips of his fingers. Then he said a few of his favorite words, just loud enough to be sure they were heard.

Zedediah Applewhite didn’t so much as blink. “You ought to spend a little time with Cordelia,” he said. “She’s taught my parrot the French for that. Spanish, Italian, and German, too.”

The interplay of characters, and their solutions to the troubles caused by individuality and impulsivity, give us plenty of laughs while we fall in love with each member of the family, including aggressive Wolfie the goat.