A conspiracy to get a rich man’s daughter into Princeton ensnares an idealistic prep-school teacher.
A few weeks before summer is not the easiest time to keep the students of Academy X focused on the book in front of them, which, for John Spencer’s senior lit class, is Emma. Half his time is spent reminding students to refer to the titular character as Jane Austen dubbed her and not as Hollywood cast her (Gwyneth Paltrow). The rest is spent quelling class wars between the wealthy and the ultra-wealthy and more primitive fights between brains and brawn. Par for the course, John thinks, for end-of-school-year antics . . . until his most comely, most scantily clad student, Caitlyn Brie, approaches him for help. She was accepted at Wellesley, but only wait-listed at Princeton. Wellesley won’t do. Pressure to write Caitlyn a second, stronger letter of recommendation rises when the head of the College Counseling Department reminds John that Caitlyn’s father is a big Academy X donor. Two tickets for floor seats at a Knicks playoff game appear anonymously in John’s mailbox, and since he is trying to woo Amy, a new assistant librarian, he yields. Shortly thereafter, everything unhinges: Amy may not be as innocent as John imagines . . . and neither is Caitlyn: She committed plagiarism. Determined to expose the crime, John finds himself charged with sexual harassment and bribery. He enlists a motley group to help him clear his name: a handful of loyal students, an art teacher who won’t admit her boyfriend is gay and a science teacher who thinks evolutionary biology will help him find a date. Can this band take on the trustees’ bank accounts, their lawyers and the shamelessly competitive English faculty, who all covet the post of department head, which rightly belongs to John?
Anonymously written by a Manhattan prep-school teacher, this debut aspires to social satire, but much of the humor is canned. Stick with the original, Lucky Jim.