What happens when your high-school crush isn’t another student, but the high school itself?
Klein (Beast of Love, 2006, etc.), a reporter for the Washington Post and an alumnus of New York’s acclaimed Stuyvesant public high school, spent a semester roaming the halls of his alma mater, hanging with the students, dressing like them and observing their mating and academic habits. No, this is not the plot of Never Been Kissed. Klein was looking for the secret to Stuyvesant’s astounding academic success (the school, as Klein points out several times, has produced four Nobel Laureates). And indeed, Stuyvesant, an institution to which students from all over New York City may apply, has achieved remarkable things: It’s reported that at a time when math and science classes are being cut from schools around the country, Stuyvesant maintains an outstanding program. The author’s admiration for the school often results in a portrait of the students that verges on the hagiographic: There’s the star football player and A student who does homework until 4:00 in the morning every night, the ten-year-old math prodigy and his brilliant college-dropout mentor, the romantically portrayed heroin-addicted poet who maintains an above-average GPA. But Klein isn’t entirely the class cheerleader. He dispels the illusion that the school is open to anyone (while any student can take the entrance exam, not everyone can afford the years of tutoring that many parents pay for in order to prepare their children for the test). Klein’s descriptions of the pressures that students face is also chilling. Parents hound children for slipping a fraction of a grade point, students sleep little, teachers load on homework. The most intense pressure seems to come from the students themselves—when one girl starts a petition to reduce homework loads over school vacations, virtually none of the student body agrees to sign it.
An often-charming love letter to a storied institution, but offered with a grain of salt.