Flora, a “white, wealthy, and able-bodied” Manhattanite fashionista, hoped to win her tutor’s affections by attending the rural, Quaker-run boarding school that’s his alma mater during her junior year of high school.
Now, three years later, she uses archived documents including journal entries, emails, and press clippings so readers see “the story happen in just the way it happened, in all its urgency and all its absurdity.” She details her rocky adjustment to a school that includes all the expected stereotypes: gradeless classrooms, rustic accommodations, and vegan cafeteria options. Avoiding commentary on personal appearances, or “shell speak,” is especially difficult for Flora. And the sense that she’s merely playing a role leads to feelings of social isolation. But after her tutor “fucks and ducks” on Flora, the school’s artistic opportunities facilitate her examination of whether “baseless love, this love that doesn’t have to be earned” exists or whether even consensual sexual acts are transactional in nature. Fittingly, Flora doesn’t necessarily reach an answer, though her wryly inserted modern commentary on her younger self indicates that present-day Flora continues exploring ideas on appearance and social interactions. The core of Flora’s journey presents opportunities for readers to grapple with gender, sex, race, classism—even Marxism—although detailed explorations of all those complicated topics are too much for a single narrative.
Thoughtful and provocative, if a tad overstuffed. (Fiction. 14-18)