Thursday, January 30, 2014

Early Decision (Lacy Crawford)

I seem to have very specific tastes in books.  Favorite topic?  Ghost stories set in English houses during the turn of the 20th century.  Another favorite topic?  Books about the high-stakes drama of school admissions.  I remember being on vacation in Boston and not wanting to do anything except read Jacques Steinberg’s phenomenal The Gatekeepers.  Another great book on that note?  Karen Stabiner’s Getting In (which I've reviewed on this site)For this reason, I was excited to read Lacy Crawford’s Early Decision, an account of one woman’s job as a “college consultant," and which Crawford says is "based on a true frenzy."

As is usually the case with these books, this is the story of a bunch of kids on their quest to gain entry into some of the most elite schools (mostly the Ivies and those adorable little schools in New England).  If Crawford stayed here and just highlighted the kids and the sometimes wacky lengths their parents would go to gain admittance for their children, Early Decision would be looking at a solid 4 rating.  However, the novel truly suffers and is bogged down from the unnecessary details of Anne’s (said consultant’s) personal life.  It seems like odd writing to go from stories about working with high school kids to the crudely represented minutiae of Anne’s bedroom.  This jolting back and forth really weighs Early Decision down.

I was excited to finally get this book but disappointed in the ultimate outcome.  Hopefully the next great school admissions novel will soon be on the horizon.


Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Reconstructing Amelia (Kimberly McCreight)

After reading the last page of Kimberly McCreight's extraordinary Reconstructing Amelia, I felt exactly like I did after finishing Gillian Flynn's Gone Girl -- like I had just been put through a washing machine on the spin cycle.  However, while I couldn't wait to exorcise Nick and Amy Dunne from my brain (even though I loved Gone Girl), I found myself thinking about Amelia's story long after I turned the final page.

Reconstructing Amelia is the story of bullying to the extreme.  Kate is a high-powered lawyer who one day gets a call out of the blue to come pick up Amelia, her daughter, from school.  Amelia has been caught up in a cheating incident, which is very hard to believe because she is a perfect student.  Upon arriving at the school, Kate is told that her daughter has jumped off the roof of the building; it is ruled a suicide.  However, when Kate begins to get texts that her daughter did not jump, she becomes obsessed with learning the true story of what happened. Through Kate's narration, Amelia's narration, Facebook posts, and texts, the reader is slowly given the entire heartbreaking as that is.

I cannot even imagine being a middle school or high school student in today's world of social media.  No longer is bullying limited to a physical altercation in the schoolyard; now it is much more sinister.  McCreight effortlessly pieces together Amelia's story until the reader is left with the unforgettable conclusion.


Sunday, January 19, 2014

The Preservationist (Justin Kramon)

Brimming with suspense, Justin Kramon's The Preservationist is one that fills the reader with a strong sense of foreboding.  At first, you think this is just going to be your classic soap opera-like love triangle, with the innocent heroine and the two guys fighting over her.  But then you start to get a twinge that something may be wrong, and knowing that it wouldn't be much of a novel if there wasn't, you know your twinges are probably going to be correct.

Julia is a student at Pennsylvania's Stradler College, a picturesque campus that anyone would love to go to. She is harboring enormous guilt over a family tragedy that occurred in the past year but starts a casual relationship with Marcus, a fellow student.  However, she also becomes enamored with Sam, an older man who works at the school's snack bar; Sam is just as infatuated with Julia.

So there you have it, kids...your triangle...Julia, Marcus, and Sam (and Marcus and Sam, of course, badmouth each other to Julia).  But remember what I said about everything not being what they seem?  Well, Kramon takes this fact and multiplies it by a thousand; he also does it so fast and so matter-of-fact
that it took my breath away.  Once you hit these 1 or 2 pages, there's no going back, and your heart will practically be in your throat for the final act.