More than 100 students at the school get up more than an hour earlier once a month to discuss -- of all things -- books.
Edina High School students Jessica Bock and Jacob Wellington laughed about the quirkiness of the characters in “Water for Elephants” during a recent meeting of the Breakfast Book Club. Members arrive before school starts to talk about the latest fiction or nonfiction selection they are reading.
The naysayers have had their say: Young people ages 15 to 24 barely spend 10 minutes a day voluntarily reading, and cracking a book for pleasure is viewed as an old-fashioned pastime in the age of computers.
But the naysayers probably didn't envision the scene at Edina High School on a recent morning -- 7:45 a.m. to be exact -- where more than 50 teens sipped coffee or juice, ate bagels and discussed a book they'd read for pleasure as part of Edina's Breakfast Book Club.
"The circus kind of replaces his family," Edina High senior John Sullivan, 18, said as the group discussed "Water For Elephants" by Sara Gruen. Sullivan served as the informal group leader during the club's meeting, but his observation was part of a chain of interpretations of the novel. Gruen's book chronicles the life of a college student who runs away to join the circus after his parents' death.
"It was a really descriptive book," Luigi Ramirez, also a senior, said. "The flow of it made it feel like I was there." Ramirez moved to Edina from Santa Anna, Calif., as a freshmen to attend Edina High through A Better Chance. The national program places high-achieving minority students from low-income backgrounds at academically renowned public and private schools.
The 17-year-old said the discussions have helped him see things he might not notice on his own.
He wakes up about an hour to an hour and a half earlier than usual to attend book club meetings.
Both Sullivan and Ramirez said they read articles and books for pleasure on a regular basis. This is their second year in the club. About a third of the 100 students in the club are males.
Edina's club has existed for about seven years and tackles a new fiction or nonfiction title each month during the school year.
"We had an idea and we wanted to get kids talking about reading in a non-school context," Edina High librarian Sara Swenson said.
Swenson and Edina English teachers Martha Cosgrove and Kathleen West sponsor the group.
Other west-metro middle and high schools, including Minnetonka High and Christ Community Lutheran School in Watertown, also have extracurricular books clubs. Their meeting times vary.
In Edina, the adults organize the discussion sessions and work with the students to choose fiction and nonfiction titles, but the discussion is entirely student-led. The club has more than 100 members who cycle in and out as their schedules permit. Students pay a $15 activity fee. Swenson said the group also relies on a variety of grants to supplement the cost of buying books, food and materials.
"It was such a passionate discussion," Karen Nelson, of Edina, said after a recent meeting.
Nelson, interim director of the Edina Education Fund, attended the meeting because the nonprofit awarded a $7,800 grant to the club about five years ago. She said it was great to hear students engaged in a high-level discussion about reading.
Next month, Edina's club will read the nonfiction book, "Banker to the Poor: Micro-Lending and the Battle Against Poverty" by Nobel Peace Prize winner Muhammad Yunus.
It's the type of book that seniors in the group could encounter next year when they're in college. Ramirez and Sullivan both said that's one of the biggest draws of the group -- along with simply enjoying reading.
Sullivan said he's a big fan of Robert Ludlum and Thomas L. Friedman. Ramirez said he frequently scans the Internet for business articles.
As for the widespread belief that teens aren't reading, "It's definitely not true," Sullivan said. "I've got two or three books going on at time."
Patrice Relerford • 612-673-4395