Julie Buxbaum's Admission - A Book with Nuance
by Jen Moyers (@jen.loves.books)
Thanks to partner NetGalley for the digital ARC of Julie Buxbaum’s Admission in exchange for an honest review. The book releases Tuesday, December 1. “Even villains are allowed nuance.” The college admissions scandal of 2019 inspired Julie Buxbaum’s Admission, which focuses on high school senior Chloe, the daughter of television star Joy Fields. Chloe and Isla, her younger sister, have grown up with wealth providing everything they needed, but Chloe is now dealing with the realization that her academics will not gain her admission to the college of her dreams. Chloe–mostly–accepts this truth . . . but her parents do not. They are accustomed to being able to give Chloe and Isla everything they need or even begin to want. And so they reach out to Joy’s long-time friend Candy, who has recommended an admissions consultant who helped her son. The novel, told in alternating past and present chapters, moves compellingly through Chloe’s story. As a high school teacher of juniors and seniors, I found Chloe to be quite realistic. She’s not sure what she wants to be, WHO she wants to be, which is not unusual. In her school and her social group, however, this kind of uncertainty is not the norm. Instead, Chloe is an underachiever whose only real, authentic interests are tutoring with Cesar, the young son of an undocumented immigrant; enjoying a beautiful friendship with her brilliant friend Shola; and nurturing a long-time crush on her good friend Levi. The shifts in time allow us to see both the progression of the admissions scheme and Chloe’s reflection while looking back on it. As she shares her story, she’s constantly pushing herself, questioning what she knew, what she should have known, and how much she is at fault, all while she’s dealing with a multiple of horrible potential futures for her parents, her sister, and herself. I found Chloe to be a wonderful, well-developed, and nuanced character. She’s a girl who has been spoiled, and while she’s aware of that fact, there is definitely a level of privilege that she has taken for granted. Her recognition of all that she didn’t see is powerful. I also had not considered the impact of feeling that one’s college possibilities are so dire that they require expensive, and illegal, maneuvers to overcome one’s shortcomings. Chloe’s reflection makes clear that the incredible machinations of her parents have a definite effect on how she views herself. The secondary characters are also strong: Chloe’s parents clearly are guilty, and yet Buxbaum does a great job in building a family who we come to love. Chloe and her sister Isla aren’t close, but as they deal with the crisis and the fact that so many superficial “friends” have abandoned them, they come to understand and love each other even more. At the beginning of the book, Buxbaum includes a letter to the reader. She says, “I felt that the scandal was a story about teenagers and their parents, about families, about how the expectations of one generation shape the next. . . . Reading fiction is often an act of empathy–as is writing it” (loc. 3). Buxbaum does an excellent job igniting the reader’s empathy, in helping us to understand–though not to excuse–the actions of each of these characters. I’m a big fan of Buxbaum’s previous novels, particularly Tell Me Three Things, and Admission is a strong addition to her collection. This book is compelling, compassionate, and thought provoking, asking each of us to consider our complicity in building a system of values that pushes families to act in these ways. Admission made me question my own reactions to the admissions scandal, my own lack of empathy for the teenagers and parents at its center, and the values I’m sharing with my own children. I highly recommend Julie Buxbaum’s Admission for both young adults AND their parents.
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