In 1997, at the distinguished Siddons School on Manhattan's Upper East Side, the school year opens with distressing news: Astra Dell is suffering from a rare disease. Astra's friends try to reconcile the sick girl's suffering with their own fierce longings and impetuous attachments. Car writes unsparing letters, which the dirty Marlene, in her devotion, then steals. Other classmates carry on: The silly team of Suki and Alex pursue Will Bliss while the subversive Lisa Van de Ven makes dates with Miss Wilkes. The world of private schools and privilege in New York City is funny, poignant, cruel, and at its heart is a sick girl, Astra Dell, "that pale girl from the senior class, the dancer with all the hair, the red hair, knotted or braided or let to fall to her waist, a fever and she consumed."
- Pulitzer Prize
The brutal, materialistic and dysfunctional underbelly of prep schools and the females who live in it create the foundation for Schutt's beautifully written but light-on-substance novel (following 2004's National Book Award finalist Florida). In the midst of 1997 Manhattan, all-girl prep school Siddons churns out ladies with a wide spectrum of academic skills, mental problems and severe insecurities, all of whom have been touched in some way by the novel's saintly lynchpin, Astra Dell, who leaves her studies behind to fight her rare cancer. Schutt introduces a large cast of characters who are dealing with Astra's absence and their own personal problems: Astra's best friend, anorexic Car; dirty girl Marlene; the inseparable and insensitive Alex and Suki; lesbian outcast Lisa; and their beloved instructors, the awkward Anna Mazur and Tim Weeks, the handsome colleague Anna's in love with. Unfortunately, Schutt shoehorns too many characters into a relatively thin book, and though there isn't a boring sentence in here, Schutt doesn't do enough with the familiar prep school setting to make the story resonate. (Apr.)
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Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
April 13, 2008
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