You might think that the subject matter of this novel – a woman who works in the admissions department of a school – is fairly unique. But this is the second novel I have read on the subject. The first was Admission by one of my all-time favourite authors, Jean Hanff Korelitz (roll on April and her latest novel!). That was set in the admissions department of Princeton University; this book is set in a New York private school. I was fascinated by the admissions world in the earlier book, so had high hopes for this one, which looked really fun.
Kate is recovering from a bad break-up, and after a year of letting herself go entirely, she gets a job in a school admissions office which she takes up with gusto. Told through a mixture of first and third person prose along with emails and handwritten materials, the novel follows Kate as she finally finds something she is good at, and a handful of hopeful applicants to the prestigious school.
The best bits of this book were, without doubt, the stories of the young applicants to Hudson Day School and, more specifically, their crazy parents. Who knew getting into private school was so competitive? We follow four students, only some of whom we root for, reading about their interviews and seeing their applicant essays, test scores and parents’ statements.
Where the book lost me a bit were the sub-plots involving Kate’s friends and her sister. By the end of the book I still didn’t understand the significance (if any; if not, then simply the point) of the italicised chapters told in the first person by Kate’s friend Chloe. This was the only use of the first person, yet Chloe didn’t seem to have that central a role nor a particularly important vantage point.
The rest of the novel is told in the third person from a variety of viewpoints, including some very minor characters, and I’m not sure this quite worked; it was sometimes difficult to orientate oneself to the correct vantage point. My other main problem with it was that I felt I didn’t really understand Kate’s character as well as I did her friends’ and her sister’s – and Kate was supposed to be the main character.
I’d have preferred this novel if it had focussed more on developing Kate’s character, less on her friends, and featured even more school applicants and their families. It certainly wasn’t as good as Korelitz’s Admission, which is an altogether more subtle, satisfying read.
This year I have set myself the challenge of reading 40 books. Pre-baby I'd have gone for the big 52, but that may be a tad too ambitious! I shall be posting a review of every book here on my blog, and welcome your comments and discussion.