A high school trip to Washington, D.C., borders on bacchanal in Benincasa’s (Great, 2014, etc.) new novel.
Alicia Deats, a rookie teacher at Flemington High School, has no idea what she's getting herself into when she volunteers to chaperone the sophomore class trip. Though only 23 years old, she’s a hippie holdover, decked out in flowing skirts, political T-shirts, and Birkenstock sandals. Her motivations for signing up to chaperone, however, have little to do with the well-being of her students and more to do with the fact that Brian Kenner, the dreamy yet aloof math teacher, will be along for the ride. Much of the drama that occurs on the trip—including drug use, vicious fighting, and breaking curfew—occurs at the hands of two groups of rival teen girls. The action follows Rachel, Gertie, and Sivan—a tightknit though oddly matched group—as they sneak out after dark to try to make contact with Gertie’s crush from summer camp, who just happens to be in D.C. Along the way, they face off repeatedly with Brooklynn, Peighton, and Kaylee, the members of an enemy clique. The other students are mostly filler, though there are some touching scenes between the nerdy Carter Bump and the handsome and popular Brock Chuddford. The story of what occurs on the trip is framed within two emails sent by Alicia eight years later, an unnecessary structural choice that distances the reader. While Benincasa is well-known as a comedian, much of the humor feels contrived. The wordplay falls flat as many characters end up sounding the same: crass and sarcastic. Despite the dependence on a wide array of swear words, the teenage storyline feels juvenile, while the teachers’ comes across as uneven.
A promising concept from a talented writer, though the novel fails to deliver.