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Publishers Weekly® Reviews
- Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page .
- Review Date: 2016-09-12
- Reviewer: Staff
The focus in Poeppels quick-witted debut novel is on elite private school admissions. Kate Pearson is a sharp yet aimless young woman a couple of years out of Wellesley, struggling to recover from a disastrous breakup. Her helicopter sister, Angela, gets her a job interview, which is a comical nightmare for Kate and her prospective boss. Surprisinglyto both of themhe hires her to be in charge of admissions at Manhattans prestigious Hudson Day School. Poeppels novel follows Kates journey from hot mess to self-actualizing grown-up, while detailing the campaigns for admission of a small group of students and their families. Some rise to the challenge, but one fails miserably. The novel is also about friendship and family, and the author gently satirizes hippie academics through Kates parents, whose nontraditional take on child rearing contributed in no small part to Angelas tightly wound demeanor. Rounding out the cast are Kates two best friends: Chloe, who goes to extreme, humorous lengths to find Kate a boyfriend, and Vicki, who tries to manipulate the situation to her advantage. With so many strong personalities and disparate threads, Kate and her story might easily have gotten lost, but the author, like a circus ringmaster, points attention here and there, always bringing it back to the center. An excellent debut. (Dec.)
A hilarious look at New York's prep school scene
What is it about books set at elite schools? The grosgrain ribbon belt-bedecked cover of Curtis Sittenfeld’s Prep. The anxiety-filled Princeton offices in Jean Hanff Korelitz’s Admission. The bittersweet final days of college in Jeffrey Eugenides’ The Marriage Plot. These stories somehow manage to intrigue even those of us who’ve never set foot in a prep school, let alone an Ivy League college.
It’s no surprise, of course, that Amy Poeppel—author of the deliciously smart Small Admissions—went to Wellesley College and worked in admissions for what her book jacket calls “a prestigious independent school.” Her razor-sharp observations of families desperate to place their darlings in the best Manhattan schools can only come from someone who’s lived in that world.
Kate Pearson was on track to become an academic, applying to grad schools in her chosen field of anthropology. She had a gorgeous if caddish boyfriend, Robert, who was “so ridiculously French, which was somehow an asset and a defect at the same time,” Poeppel writes.
When Robert ditches her as soon as she lands in Paris to live with him, Kate abandons her carefully planned life and takes up residence on her New York couch. Her friend Chloe, who is Robert’s cousin and introduced the pair, feels guilty. Her sister worries for Kate’s mental health and connects her with the admissions director at Hudson Day School, who is desperate to fill an admissions counselor position before the rush. Despite a catastrophically bad interview, Kate gets the job. Slowly, slowly, she reclaims her life, her friendships and her way.
Poeppel nails the naked ambition of New York power moms for whom placing their children in a prep school is as important as securing the newest Birkin bag. Small Admissions is a laugh-out-loud funny look at status and rejection in all its forms, from the classroom to the bedroom.