The former headmaster of an expensive prep school tells of an underachieving teenager forced into an expensive prep school by her ambitious mother.
Amanda Bahringer is a good student, but not a great student. Her father, Joey, a genial fellow for whom a stint at Fordham was enough in the way of higher education, doesn't want to pressure her, but her tight-lipped mother, Tess, has Ivy League dreams for her diffident daughter. Fortunately, they can afford St. Matthew's. Meek to a fault, Amanda does as she's told and tries hard to excel, but always falls just short of the mark. She calms her anxieties by dipping into a hidden stash of tranquilizers stolen little by little from her mother over the last few years; she also frets about her weight and runs many miles each day. The aggressive counselor who handles college applications suggests that Amanda's athletic abilities might impress the admissions office at Dartmouth or a similarly prestigious college. So she strives to run more and faster, scarcely eating per her hard-driving coach's instructions. Only kindly, white-haired teacher Carlisle Passmore seems to notice how fragile Amanda has become. Prone to woolgathering about the good old days at St. Matthew's when Latin was more important than lacrosse, Dr. Passmore is well-intentioned but too pedantic and old-fashioned to interest Amanda. Then again, nothing really reaches the troubled, quiet teenager, whose inexorable slide into anorexia reaches a crisis point when Dartmouth rejects her.
Bunting (The Lionheads, 1973, etc.) draws a sympathetic portrait of a young girl on the verge of emotional collapse and neatly skewers the crassness of pushy parents. But the story is weakened by his evident nostalgia for the glory days of upper-class prep schools and their Anglophile affectations.