A struggling young tutor tries to find her destiny among the children of privilege in this cutting peek at the vicious world of college applications.
Based largely on personal experience, Crawford’s debut novel explores the rarefied world of Anne, a bright but world-weary English major who has fallen into the unusual trade of “Application Whisperer,” helping affluent Chicago high school students tweak their personal essays and nail their college applications. Anne is also wrestling with her personal identity, unsure of her own talents, ambitions and security. The novel focuses on Anne’s students, all of whom are blandly unique in their own way. There’s a hunky young tennis player who only wants to run with the wild horses in Montana, the wealthy daughter of an Ivy League university trustee and a gay theater buff afraid to confront his aggressive father. The ringer in this exclusive club is Cristina, a Guatemalan illegal immigrant whose brilliance belies her origins. “She was helpless to reframe eighteen years of parenting and generations longer of expectations,” Crawford writes of Anne. “She was just a custodian of fate, as she pictured herself now, an orderly, shuffling alongside these kids. Perhaps offering them a bon mot. Sending them through the next set of doors, and turning back each spring to where the new kids were waiting.” And while the children are all well-characterized, their parents are portrayed with enough delicious malice to flirt with satire. To ratchet up the personal drama, Crawford tosses in Martin, a vain but ambitious young actor whose boyfriend status seems like a fleeting afterthought, and a nasty upstairs neighbor who plots to unravel Anne’s perilous residency in her building. Crawford injects a palpable sense of pathos into this absurdly complex process, but non-parents and other parties immune to the cult of the Tiger Mother may find trolling through adolescent essays a bit laborious.
Much like The Nanny Diaries—sincere and readable.