A high-priced tutor sinks into the lives of a dysfunctional Fifth Avenue family in this debut novel.
Noah, a recent Princeton grad, earns his post-collegiate keep preparing the children of Manhattan’s upper-crust for entrance exams. The job has more inherent drama than you might expect: Only an Ivy League acceptance letter will do in this ultra-competitive environment, but the teens themselves are spoiled, unmotivated and, despite their pricey private educations, not very well-schooled. Noah’s biggest problem child is Dylan Thayer, who’s impossibly hip and comically dim. (A previous tutor coached him to work Harriet Tubman into every essay, and he robotically complies, even if he’s asked to discuss the greatest invention of the 20th century.) Tuscany, Dylan’s younger sister, is similarly sheltered and ignorant—an attitude exemplified by a bedroom pillow of hers embroidered with the words “Boys Like Girls Who Look Neat—When in Doubt, Just Don’t Eat!” Noah soon learns that the parents are the core of this rot: Mom, a pediatrician who attempts to bribe Noah into taking the SAT for Dylan, is incapable of basic moral guidance, let alone discipline, and Dad, a wealthy publishing mogul, is all but absent. Schrefer, who’s worked as an SAT tutor, has a fine eye for the insularity and subtle viciousness of the Thayers’ world, but Noah comes straight out of central casting: he’s anxious by nature but comfortable with people of other races and classes, proud of his rural background but careful to obscure it among urbane company, deeply concerned about money and success but too noble to be corrupted by greed. And true to form, familiar rewards and punishments are mechanically doled out in the final pages.
Not as Jackie Collins–slick as the title suggests, but pretty lightweight for a novel about the redemptive power of intellect.