Author Lacy Crawford has been a private college application counselor for 15 years. Her experiences help write the protagonist Anne, as well as the kids Anne is helping through the college application process. Anne officially helps with essays and SAT prep, but her primary value to the parents is as someone they can freak out to and who can help communicate with their kids. Anne herself sees her role as helping their children achieve independence, using the essay writing to help them find their own voice. Given her highly unpleasant boyfriend, Anne could use some of that independence herself.
When I agreed to review this book, I was under the impression it was a non-fiction documentary kind of deal. Re-reading the stock description, I still don’t feel it’s clear that this is actually a fictional account. That in a nutshell is the one problem I had with this book – it’s not clear how fictional it is. There is a small caveat at the beginning to prevent schools complaining about how they’re portrayed, but I think a description of how much the students’ situations were drawn from real experiences was also necessary. That said…
The author’s writing style was fantastic. She included just enough mundane details in her descriptions to make the setting feel real without interfering with the fast-paced plot. She also had an almost Austenesque ability to convey that something is ridiculous or objectionable without directly saying so. At first I wasn’t sure about her choice to include the students’ essays, especially since the poorly written ones were painful to read. As essay drafts evolved with the characters though, I quickly became convinced of their usefulness for showing character development.
Although it’s impossible to know how much of this story was true, the characters were so well written that I would believe (almost) all of it. Each character acted self-consistently with what we know of their personality and motivations. All had their flaws, but not all were unlikeable. Our protagonist, for example, lacks self-confidence and sometimes seems manipulative. She is also always trying to do the right thing for the students she’s helping though and that was enough to make me like her anyway. Like out protagonist, the ending was likeable but not too likeable to be believable. It was neither so happy it felt like fiction nor so unhappy it felt unsatisfying. So this book wasn’t at all what I expected, but it delivered a relatable, moving story which I really enjoyed.This review first published on Doing Dewey.