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You can’t even see plays downtown anymore because the Palmetto Theater couldn’t compete with the malls and multiplexes.“Oh,” Fiona says.

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Finch, it’s really nice of you to drive me home,” she says as we pass Seminole Acres, where they’re putting in 15,000 new units.“Fiona, you are a valuable person who deserves nothing but niceness and respect,” I say.

This is an empowerment phrase we’ve been encouraged to iterate at regular intervals to counter the self-esteem crashes that hormones induce in girls Fiona’s age.

All too quickly we’re on Elysian Boulevard, where the blocks stretch out to accommodate a steady stream of shopping centers and fast-food restaurants.

Nervous to be riding in a teacher’s car, Fiona unzips her backpack and reorganizes things, moves a teddy bear out of sight, sticks some loose papers into folders, reviews tonight’s homework.“Mr.

To make room for her feet, Fiona has to kick aside a pile of old newspapers, but she is gracious as ever. Finch.” I drive along Flamingo Lake and cut through Walnut Grove, my childhood stomping grounds, whose narrow, leaf-strewn streets and teetering bungalows I find soothing.

It was once the residential heart of the city but is now dwarfed by surrounding subdivisions.

Matt is a foot shorter than Fiona, was suspended recently for smoking cigarettes, and seems to boast no exceptional abilities other than the willingness to try dangerous tricks on the lower-school rope swing.“To help me feel better, mom let me buy a new dress for the dance this weekend.”“Did that help the whole emotional piece fall into place?

” I turn onto Crispus Attucks Avenue and pull up in front of her house, a Greek Revival Mc Mansion that bulges to the edge of the lot.“I don’t know.

” I ask Fiona as we drive through the gates of Liberty Estates, where she lives.“Oh, he broke up with me last week.

I was grieving and all stressed for a while, but my mom thinks I’m coming to terms.”“Perhaps it wasn’t a good fit,” I say.

I’m not sure of its impact, but I know it’s a heady time to be teaching girls.