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MINOR DRAMAS & OTHER CATASTROPHES
February 4, 2020
Julia Abbott is a parent of two Liston Heights high school students. Her son, Andrew, is trying out for the school’s latest theater production, and Julia is determined that he be given a speaking role this time around—after all, didn’t the Abbott family just donate enough money to fund the school’s entire costume department? On the day the cast list is posted, Julia can’t wait any longer to know if Andrew made the cut. She secretly enters the school to check the list but, in her rushed excitement, accidentally punches a student in the stomach. Unfortunately for Julia, the student is the lead actress of the play and also happens to be the daughter of her husband’s close business associate. Julia hightails it out of the school, but not before another student records the whole interaction on his phone and posts it online. Now Julia is in deep trouble, so she’s doing everything she can to divert attention away from her scandal…and onto someone else’s.
Isobel Johnston is a respected English teacher at Liston Heights High School, where she teaches classic literature to her privileged students while gently encouraging them to look deeper into the texts so they can better understand the world (beyond the bubble) they live in. She considers herself a successful and dedicated teacher whose teaching style is unique and slightly subversive, yes, but also still appreciated by students, parents, and school administrators alike. So when she receives a voicemail at home from an “anonymous parent” accusing her of pushing a Marxist agenda through her lessons on The Great Gatsby, she doesn’t quite know what to make of it. She just tries not to worry too much, since, surely, no other parents could feel this way, too. Right?
As someone who lives in a very competitive school district, often cited as one of the best in the country, I can so relate to this book. My kids are still in elementary school, but I already see helicopter moms like Julia working their magic, making their moves, staking their claims. While there are PLENTY of normal parents who are just doing the best they can for their kids, there’s no denying that the posh overachieving parent cliques are forming—and they mean business, bitch. Julia Abbott is intense and extreme, but, for me, she is completely believable. Her craziness coupled with Isobel’s earnest, albeit naive, sincerity makes for a compelling novel. I was hooked from page one.
But one of the aspects of the novel that I appreciate most is the students themselves—more specifically, their willingness to take a stand for what they believe in, to right the wrongs they could, and to feel powerful enough to take charge of their own lives, even when that meant going against the wishes of their parents. I love that author Kathleen West gives these students power. She allows them to have strong voices in the story. It made the book better, and, frankly, made me feel hopeful. Millennials get a bad rap so often, but I see a theme of personal empowerment and strength in this generation that I didn’t experience as a teenager. It really makes me believe these kids are capable of accomplishing big things.
Big thank you to Berkley Books for the ARC!