July Amazon rating 4.3 stars

See why Chain Gang Elementary is worth reading.

Note: This page contains several items. Scroll down to read more reviews and news about the book.

Check out the promo sheet.


“Jonathan Grant just might be my new favorite writer”

Mama Zen writes:

Jonathan Grant, author of Chain Gang Elementary (Thornbriar Press, 2011), just might be my new favorite writer. You want to laugh? Grant writes with smart, sardonic wit. You want to be moved to tears of heartbreak or rage? Grant can get you there, too. And, he does it all within a story that speeds along like a bullet train and keeps you turning page after page. Chain Gang Elementary might be every parent’s nightmare, but it’s a hell of a read, and I highly recommend it.

Read the full review.


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Here’s a snippet of a very well-written review by Shay at Shay’s Word Garden:

What happens when a stay-at-home dad with demons in his past takes the position of PTO president (and soccer coach) at his son’s elementary school? Why, Machiavellian plots, shocking betrayals, a kinky affair, grand larceny, spying, bodies being unburied (literally!) and gun play, of course.

Author Jonathan Grant has taken a crew of Anytown stock characters and set them down in a suburban twilight zone of school year craziness. He eases the reader into this story so skillfully that it all seems completely plausible, not to mention hugely entertaining, when it all veers off into a wild and darkly comic bad trip of a climax.

Chain Gang Elementary is darkly funny, entertaining, well-written, and has a great deal of heart.

You can read the review at Shay’s Word Garden. If you have trouble reading the font, you can also read it at

To download a flyer about this uniquely entertaining book, click here.

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This five-star review comes from a teacher. Heather writes on (reposted on

“Maybe I’m just biased because I’m a teacher, but…I loved this book! I completely related to the shady politics of public schools, the idea that “no good deed goes unpunished,” and the endless fight for doing what is right by kids, not by finances, politics, or climbing the district ladder. I like that the story has scandals, secrets, mysteries, crimes, and romance…and it’s well-written too! The author is hilariously sarcastic, and refreshingly intelligent. A good read, for sure :)”

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Critique of Pure Chain Gang, from Midwest Book Review:

“Fueled by crazed parents”

“One false move can lead to another. Chain Gang Elementary is a novel from Jonathan Grant, a PTA President and survivor of his own crazy elementary school, who provides his unique case of Malliford Elementary, which, driven by the quest for higher test scores, fights a redistricting kicking and screaming, fueled by crazed parents doing whatever they can to prove it was a bad idea, sabotaging their own school and children’s education in the process. A satire fueled by Grant’s own concerns with the modern educational system, Chain Gang Elementary is a fine choice for fiction collections that are looking for novels taking a statement on current social issues.”

See review.

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I was very pleased to see this 4-star review of Chain Gang Elementary by a LibraryThing member. Honestly, this is what I hope readers get from the book. (That and a few laughs, of course.) Ilex01 writes:

“I wasn’t sure what to expect from this book, but I’m glad I stuck with it. School politics, corrupt PTAs, intrigue and suspicion- it’s all here in the backdrop of an elementary school. A very unique plot and perspective provides the foundation of realistic and believable characters and characterizations. If you enjoy thrillers, this is quite a different take on what you think is a familiar theme! Very enjoyable and recommended.”

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The current (July 2012) rating for Chain Gang Elementary at is 4.3 out of 5.0 stars. Here’s a 5-star review Liza Butler posteed on the site:

“I do not think I will ever join a PTO after reading this novel! The politics involved, the backstabbing, the affairs, the arrests and the children caught in the middle. Oh, did I forget the mild racism?I bet this type of thing goes on almost all the PTOs at schools where it is the pinnacle of excellence in comparison to other schools in its district.
Sometimes you have to move away… Awesome book! Would recommend.”

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5 stars from Top Amazon reviewer Shirly Johnson. Click here to read.

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Chain Gang Elementary is “Book of the Month” at Indie Books List. ( 5-star rating)
“This book is the show ‘Desperate Housewives’ wishes it could be.”

By Jack Martin, Indie Books List

What can I say about Richard Gray? He’s a flawed, kind, well-meaning man who calls meetings to order with the “rap-tap-tap” of a Duncan yo-yo. As the protagonist in Jonathan Grant’s “Chain Gang Elementary”, he’s pitch perfect. Gray possesses a conflicted social conscience, a sharp tongue, and has the cojones to be an unapologetic, stay at home father. He’s a Southern male that isn’t a simpleton, a redneck, or a dandy…I mean…Charlestonian.

When Richard is drafted to be head of the Parent Teacher Organization at Malliford Elementary, he is aware that his presidency will face obstacles. The aging Miz Rutherford is at once Principal, non-benevolent dictator, and Nurse Ratched to the children and parents who inhabit Malliford. She’s not fond of Gray’s impudent questions, or the changes he would make in student life.

Rutherford is intent on making her school a “five-star school of excellence”. The only people standing in the way are Richard Gray, agent provocateur Rita Malloy, and the academic pariahs that inhabit the Chantilly Arms apartment complex. Of course, the school isn’t racist for wanting to reassign them to another school. It’s strictly an issue of test scores and property values.

This is where the war begins. This war will be won not through frontal assaults, but from good old-fashioned skulduggery and passive-aggressive behavior. This book is the show “Desperate Housewives” wishes it could be, and has the scathing social satire “Suburgatory” pretends to provide.

Gray’s personal life is hopelessly endangered by his success as PTO President, with his son Nicholas providing an unbiased look at the effects of his professional achievements. Richard’s frosty wife, Anna Lee is alternately unimpressed with, and angry about Richard’s “accomplishments”.

Her emotional indifference creates a situation ripe for extramarital excursions. These aren’t too difficult to initiate when you are a powerful, stay-at-home dad, surrounded by bored housewives. The question Gray finds himself asking is “Will it be worth it?”

The answer is “Yes.”, but only in response to the question “Should I read this book?” Chain Gang Elementary has a massive cast of characters that are all fully developed, with sub-plots that weave in and out of the main storyline gracefully. It’s rare to look at a book and say “This was crafted.” This book combines loving attention to detail, page-turning tension, with a wry humor that stops short of meanness.

This is a long read. A lesser story would make the length of ”Chain Gang” unbearable. As things stand, it’s a satisfying experience, worth far more than the price of admission.

Buy it already.

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By Nancy at

… Richard also has some ghosts from his childhood that he hasn’t moved past, including a run-in with his kindergarten Principal and an alcoholic father, and his relationship with Anna Lee is strained at best. Richard just wants to provide a good educational experience for his son, living by the rule “if it’s not good enough for my child, it’s not good enough for anyone else’s either,” but soon wonders if it’s all worth it.

The events in Chain Gang Elementary may be a bit far-fetched but I’m sure every PTO/PTA parent will recognize at least one character from this zany novel as someone they’ve dealt with, and the students rang true as well. I often lost track of who was who, the myriad parents and teachers began to blend together, but the action kept the story moving without needing to remember every character.

Chain Gang Elementary is a wacky peek into our worst elementary school nightmares, with humorous takes on zero-tolerance rules, standardized test scores (called Standard Hightower Intellachievement Tests – note the acronym), and the use of Ritalin to control problem children.

Note that Chain Gang Elementary is available for the Kindle for $.99 as of this writing, a great price for this fun read.

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Idgie writes at Dew on the Kudzu:

Chain Gang Elementayr is “a nice hearty sized book with snap, snark and witty phrasing all the way through.”

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Reviewer Elizabeth A. White:

“Though the premise for Chain Gang Elementary sounded intriguing, I admit I went into it not entirely sure what to expect, just hoping to be entertained. What I got instead was a book that not only gripped and entertained me as much as any thriller – who knew grade school politics could be so damn Machiavellian? – but which also brings to the table some very timely issues about the state of education in America, especially as relates to standardized testing and its emotional and financial impact on students, teachers, and schools.

Author Jonathan Grant puts his experience as both a former journalist (newspaper coverage of the controversies that swirl around “Chain Gang Elementary” play a prominent role in the fight between Richard and Rutherford) and PTA president to good use, bringing a verisimilitude to the story that makes even the more extreme behavior of the parents and teachers disturbingly believable. Grant also uses well placed doses of humor to temper the seriousness of the underlying topics, and keeps the story moving along at a nice clip without ever getting bogged down in the more policy-centric passages.

Doing time at Chain Gang Elementary is (not so) hard labor you’ll actually enjoy being sentenced to.”

Read review.

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Another 4-Star Review

This review comes from Book Nook Club, and it contains some interesting takes on the book. Among other things, the reviewer says:

(Chain Gang Elementary) raises issues of race, class and white privilege in a way that is very nuanced and thoughtful. The ending is great–I read the last quarter in one evening because I didn’t want to put it down!

… Overall a very enjoyable read, one that will make you feel outraged, sad, and hopeful. 4 stars

To read the entire review, click here.

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Author of Learn Me Good:

            Chain Gang Elementary

                                                   “exceptionally well-written.”

I was very interested in what John Pearson had to say about Chain Gang Elementary, since he’s both a teacher and an author. He quit hix engineering job to become a math teacher in an inner-city school and wrote about his experiences in Learn Me Good. He’s managed to keep his sense of humor–his sequel is Learn Me GooderHe also maintains a website and blog. Check them out. You can read the review on John’s page.

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This is the second newspaper review of Chain Gang Elementary in as many days. What makes this one significant is that: A) It’s from my home state of Missouri; and B) It’s written by an education writer.  So here it is (and if you want to buy the book, click here for options):

 When fact and fiction tell the whole story…

By Jack L. Kennedy (former president, Education Writers Association) in the Joplin Independent:

Try wrapping teaching, testing, tutoring, sex, attempted murder, egos, child abuse and discrimination into one book. At times, Chain Gang Elementary (Thornbriar Press) does read like an improbable, overdone soap opera. But it is not often that a born newspaperman turns out a fiction piece that becomes a searing commentary on education’s strengths and failings, while throwing in an extramarital affair and other inducements. Chain Gang is a well-crafted depiction of hero Richard’s attempt to keep the local school going and its parent organization alive while combatting bad teaching, obtuse administration, racism and other issues that might have been torn from the headlines today.

Author Jonathan Grant has his roots usually in non-fiction newspapering. He served as a school parent association president, and with his dad, wrote the acclaimed book The Way it Was in the South: The Black Experience in Georgia. Coincidence? Others have called Chain Gang autobiographical; Grant claims it is not.

The human condition often takes a beating in the book. Good teachers and administrators seem scarce as the book’s protagonist and father, Richard, agrees to become head of the Malliford Elementary parent organization. It is not officially a national parent/teacher association unit. The national group dropped it when a previous treasurer ran off with the treasury and other hanky-panky took place.

Richard’s efforts to tutor non-Caucasian students new to the school, start teacher in-service training or replace an art teacher sound like current themes chronicled in Education Week or some other pedagogical publication. Through all of the hassles and hurdles, however, some good teachers remain, like Mrs. Little, who cares for kids in and out of her class. Yes, skeptics, such souls do exist.

Mrs. Little, Richard and others fight for fairness, an end to intolerance and obscurity whether for the person who is the white son of the parent organization president or talented Antonio from “those apartments” just redistricted into Malliford Elementary. There is hope in the book for a rebirth of common sense and better communication in many ways—not bad goals for anyone any time.

The book flows well, with often sharp word choices, crisp scene-setting, rhythm and humor. Although at times a bit overdone for dramatic effect (after all, it is fiction), Chain Gang does repeatedly emphasize the importance of individual responsibility and caring and parents working with, not just against, educators. It criticizes education rendered through policy, prescription and one-size-fits-all mentality.

Revealing the ending or even specific plot twists would spoil the reader’s fun. Those who have written education columns for newspapers, survivors of parent/teacher organizations as well as many others will find that Grant has done an exceptional job of weaving educational fact and enticing fiction together. For that, he deserves an “A.”

For more information about the author go to his blog here.

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The Americus Times-Recorder 

December 1, 2011

From Reading for review has many benefits

By Beth Alston

• “Chain Gang Elementary” — Jonathan Grant — 2011 — Thornbriar Press

I read about this book somewhere and wrote the author. He graciously sent the book for review and I really enjoyed it.

The novel is by turns funny and sad. Some of the characters in the book are actually people we know, although by different names. Know what I mean?

The main character, Richard Gray, is a stay-at-home dad with lots (of) self-confidence issues, among many others. When he is elected as president of the PTO, things really start to heat up in his life and that’s when it really gets interesting. While his motives are pure concerning the well-being of the children in his neighborhood school, he allows himself to become consumed with power and makes some very poor choices in his personal life.

The story line twists and turns and winds back around in astounding but credible ways.

Grant’s book cover bio identifies him as “an elementary school survivor who grew up, had kids of his own, and served as a PTA president.” It also says he lives in Atlanta with his family and is “a recovering high school parent.”

His writing is intelligent and real and I look forward to seeing more from him!

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by Jerri Ann Reason at Mom-e-Centric:

You may be aware of the giveaway for Chain Gang Elementary by Jonathan Grant which ends on November 21st. If not, you need to go there immediately and get entered to win. As soon as you are finished, jump back over here and let me tell you a bit of the book that hit me hard….

As I spend my days and nights for that matter, reading, learning and even visiting various education leaders, I find that the more I know, the more often I wish I knew less. That said, this book is fiction, but…unless you’ve been hiding under a rock, you will most definitely recognize some of the characters in this awesome read. You may not recognize them as part of one story, probably not even at one school and maybe not even in one state…but you will definitely see that the horrors that plague schools are definitely no different now than they were 20, 40 or 60 years ago. The people in the book are fiction, the personalities are people you meet every day.

Now, without giving too much away, there’s my hero, the man who stands up for everything that seems right with the world…and a hero who falls prey to well…I’ll save that for you to read..but no hero can ever be a hero without realizing that life sometimes gets in the way.

I could go on forever, and ever but then I’d be telling you about the book. The bottom line is I have distributed this book to several people locally, some nationally and I can’t wait to hear what they have to say. I gave them the book with the note that “this is fiction, so if you find yourself in the book, remember, it is fiction”…we shall see how many of those awesome folks send me a note when they’ve finished the book with a mention of where they found me in the book????

Now, if you aren’t terribly intrigued, you most likely never will be. But, really, how can you not be dying to know the rest? You can purchase Chain Gain Elementary and you can check out the Chain Gang Elementary Facebook Page as well.

And don’t forget to enter to win it Chain Gang Elementary by Jonathan Grant.

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by Louie Crew
Professor Emeritus, Rutgers University

I just finished the novel Chain Gang Elementary by education reformer and journalist Jonathan Grant. I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Chain Gang Elementary is a school with an excellent but undeserved reputation. When the narrator, a parent himself, is elected as chair of the Parent Teachers Organization, all hell breaks loose.

See It’s also available for your Kindle.

When I bought the book, I wondered whether the narrative would engage me with the effectiveness and clarity of Grant’s nonfiction; but the relentless pace and the cast of sometimes zany, always passionate characters did not give me time to pine for nonfiction. I was hooked.

The narrative is not a mere artifice to make a treatise on education palatable. The characters are interesting in their own right. All are flawed–sometimes delightfully so, sometimes annoyingly. I sometimes wanted to send the crusading narrator into monastic isolation to protect him from several bad choices in his personal life that threaten to to undermine the reforms he champions. He has a pernicious zipper problem.

A subplot appears and disappears dramatically. It offers insight into the narrator’s bent towards self-destruction.

My first encounter with Jonathan Grant’s writing was the splendid history book The Way It Was in the South: The Black Experience in Georgia — begun by historian Donald L. Grant, which Jonathan completed after his father’s death. It’s available from the University of Georgia Press and won the Georgia Book of the Year Award in 1994. It’s brilliantly researched and extraordinarily well written. See

I highly recommend both books.

Read the Author Q&A with Jonathan Grant

Where to buy the book

Decatur Book Festival Coverage

Book Trailer

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