Two teens find healing through a senior writing project at an upscale school serving gifted youth with psychiatric disorders in Ithaca, New York.
Levon is a loner; some speculate he’s inherited Asperger’s from the father he’s never met. Recently hospitalized after a suicide attempt, Samantha remains fragile. Meg, their English teacher/therapist, instructs them to write about their lives, sharing their work with each other. Separately, she solicits written input from their families and others. These collective writings form the novel. The project makes little academic or literary sense. New essayists repeat what readers already know, rewinding the narrative to catalog academic and professional accomplishments—before marveling at Levon and Sam, who are widely admired. (Each is tall, attractive, sensitive, and gifted). Their world feels hermetically sealed: inhabited exclusively by white, privileged, good-looking, high-achieving students and adults whose possessions manifest Eurocentric good taste. The few not born to affluence have ascended to it via natural gifts. (In mind-blowing reverse-stereotyping, a professor tells Sam’s Catholic father that his intelligence and good taste prove he has Jewish blood.) The repeated emphasis on characters’ beauty, brilliance, and wealth is distancing. This effect is compounded as Sam, Levon, and their peers are admitted to Ivies and other top-tier colleges, success achieved without visible effort. (When one’s admitted to the New England Conservatory, friends are astonished to learn he plays the cello.)
Strictly for fans of Miss Porter’s, Wegmans, and the Vineyard. (Fiction. 14-17)