Atria / December 27, 2016 / $26.99 print, $13.99 digital
In the terms of writing a book that is charming, appealing, and delightful, author Amy Poeppel has hit it out of the ballpark because Small Admission, Poeppel’s first published book is all that.
When a book works, it’s difficult to pinpoint what makes it so good. And really, it’s because everything just fits together—like pieces of a puzzle.
Authors are told to write what they know...and it appears that Poeppel took that advice to heart. Per her biography, she worked in the admission department of a small independent school. I suspect that is one reason, the backdrop to this story, is so genuine and hilariously amusing—a truly tongue-in-check look at the whole process that only an insider would know about.
The characters are relatable, especially Kate, the heroine. Bookish, intelligent and personable, Kate floated through school, living a charmed life, in no doubt of her career path trajectory—until she meets Robert, her roommate Chloe’s debonair French cousin. Suddenly Kate is ready to ditch all her plans for a man. She gives up graduate school and makes plans to move to Paris.
On the surface, Robert is all for their togetherness, until he realizes exactly what that will mean—fidelity! Having Kate living with him will put a damper on his secret hook-ups. He can’t imagine ever being satisfied with one woman. Feeling that a quick remedy is best, he meets her at the airport and before the ink is dry on her stamped passport, he dumps her. Not surprisingly, Kate spirals into a funk—losing her self-confidence and self-esteem.
Her older sister, Vicki attempts to shore her up. Finally, after a year, Vicki says enough. She arranges a job interview for Kate at Hudson Day School, and bullies her into attending. It doesn’t exactly go well:
“I should probably tell you right off the bat—I’ve never actually had a real job before, so I don’t really have many of what you might calls skills. Well, no, maybe I do have some skills, even if I can’t, like, articulate them very well. For example, I’m trying to become a better judge of character, or at least better than I used to be. These days I don’t tend to like anyone.”
Mr. Bigley looked confused.
“What I mean is, I’m discriminating. But I’m not an asshole. I bet that’s a good quality for anyone working admissions. Right?” Her armpits were going damp, and she glanced up to see the bulgy-eyed girl looking dumbstruck. “And in case you’re worried—I know that you shouldn’t say ‘asshole’ in front of kids or their parents. So, I would never do that. In fact, I remember all the school rules—no swearing, no stealing, no biting. No bullying ‘cause some kids take it to heart and” –here she put a finger gun to her head and made a credible shooting sound— “so no using words like ‘gay’ or ‘retard’ unless you actually mean gay or retarded and you’re being nice about it.” Shut up she said to herself. Please shut up.
It gets worse before it gets better... but even in her excruciating bumbling way, Kate’s true perceptiveness shines through:
“But speaking of apparel,” she said suddenly, “clothing can actually be germane to the discussion of pedagogy. What does a uniform say about the culture of a school, for example? What does it tell us about the framework or fabric, if you will, of an institution? An intentional limitation of choice shows a value being placed on a willingness to conform, but to what exactly? And does the uniform mold the child or does the child need intrinsically to fit into a certain mold? And in either case, what are the psychological ramifications in an adolescent as he or she develops autonomy?
Astonishingly, even after her painful embarrassing discourse, Kate is offered the job and starts her new career at Hudson as assistant director of admissions.
Still, even though it seems that Kate’s life might be getting back on track, her sister Vicki and her best friend Chloe still think that they need to meddle in her life. In fact, Chloe, even though she is in a committed relationship, signs up on a dating site, so she can find Kate a boyfriend:
The day I found out that Kate was taking the big, bold step of interviewing for a real job, George came home from work to find me creating a profile on a dating site. I wanted it to be clever, original, and fill of personality.
“Are you leaving me?” he asked.
“What should her favorite movie be? Something edgy. Unpredictable. Something with a minor cult following.”
“Cute pictures,” he said, looking over my shoulder.
“But do I use a group picture and have him guess? Or do I just use pictures of me?” . . .
“Under the circumstances, I don’t think any of this is a good idea.”
“If she’s ready to look for a job, then she’s ready to go on a date, and since I’m the one who screwed up her personal life, I should be the one to fix it.”
“To be honest, Chloe, I don’t get why you take responsibility for any of this. It wasn’t your fault.”
“I won’t be let off the hook until she gets her life back.”
As you can see, Poeppel has set up the perfect scenarios for plenty of absurdity and humor. But...there is more. She also writes about sincere and legitimate interactions – like the bossiness but caring of an older sister and the concerned of a true friend.
There is a sweet low key romance to satisfy your romance cravings . . along with a bit of poetic justice—karma can be a bitch—for the people that deserve it.
After reading Small Admission, you’ll share my excitement in discovering such a talented new author, and such a charming, charming book.
Learn more about or pre-order a copy of Small Admissions by Amy Poeppel, available December 27, 2016: