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.