Admission by Jean Hanff Korelitz
Grand Central Publishing
copyright 2009 (449 pages)
rating: 4 out of 5
Synopsis from Goodreads.com:
"Admissions. Admission. Aren't there two sides to the word? And two opposing sides...It's what we let in, but it's also what we let out."
For years, 38-year-old Portia Nathan has avoided the past, hiding behind her busy (and sometimes punishing) career as a Princeton University admissions officer and her dependable domestic life. Her reluctance to confront the truth is suddenly overwhelmed by the resurfacing of a life-altering decision, and Portia is faced with an extraordinary test. Just as thousands of the nation's brightest students await her decision regarding their academic admission, so too must Portia decide whether to make her own ultimate admission.
Admission is at once a fascinating look at the complex college admissions process and an emotional examination of what happens when the secrets of the past return and shake a woman's life to its core.
Well, first of all, I think I have misrepresented myself in this blog and I need to set the record straight. This week I participated for the first time in the weekly meme, Where are you. I have always enjoyed reading these teasers in the past and I thought I might like to play along. From what I remember (and granted, my memory is not as great as it once was) most bloggers write the meme in the first person, that is, the blogger is telling where the story takes place from the protagonist's point of view. SO.....I decided to do the same. Unfortunately, I had several readers comment as though they thought I am actually a admissions counselor for Princeton University. OH NO NO NO.....and Princeton University would not be thrilled to hear that, I am sure. I am just a lowly English teacher at a small, private school in the Midwest.
However, I absolutely loved reading this book because the protagonist is an admission's counselor for such a prestigious school. I do teach English and I begin each academic year with the writing of the college essay in my British Literature class. I cull essays off the Internet and we analyze why the essay is deemed the "creme de la creme". I try to inform students that those who read the essays will be reading hundreds if not thousands of essays in one semester and in order to grab their attention, they must write something that stands out in the crowd. I was truly moved by the protagonist in this story, Portia Nathan, as she takes her job very, very seriously. She knows that Princeton will only admit 1 out of 8 applicants, and she knows that nearly every applicant is worthy of admittance. She fears that these students will allow an acceptance or rejection letter to determine their self-worth.
There are really several other story lines in this novel that do, sometimes too conveniently, all come together in the end. There is the pregnant teen from the Midwest who comes to stay with Portia's 68 year old mother in New Hampshire so that she can attend school and have her baby without her Mormon family knowing of this indiscretion. There is the strained relationship between Portia and her mother, and we all know the conflict that can arise between tense mother/daughter relationships. And while the story begins with Portia and her significant other, the chairman of Princeton's English department, living together for what has been over 16 years, the relationship soon ends when his mistress becomes pregnant. There is another significant conflict in the story, but I do not want to give away too much. Needless to say, it involves the double meaning of the title, Admission: Portia not only grants admission to students into Princeton University, but she also must admit something from her own past.
While the author does an adequate job at developing the main characters and various story lines, I must confess that some of the plot seemed a bit too contrived for me. However, a large part of the book focuses on the admission process and this more than made up for any deficit in other areas. I was totally enthralled with the Boarding school descriptions, the students' anxiety, the parents' audacity, the counselors' politics, and Portia's empathy for them all. There are even a few choice passages from the book that I plan to use in the classroom to help illustrate the importance of the well-written college essay in the admission process. If a behind-the-scenes look at the Ivy Leagues is of any interest to you, then you will thoroughly enjoy this novel.