Read by Adina Verson, Jennifer Lim, and Suehyla El-Attar
Published: April 2019 by Holt, Henry and Company Inc.
Source: audiobook checked out from my local library
In an American suburb in the early 1980s, students at a highly competitive performing arts high school struggle and thrive in a rarified bubble, ambitiously pursuing music, movement, Shakespeare, and, particularly, their acting classes. When within this striving “Brotherhood of the Arts,” two freshmen, David and Sarah, fall headlong into love, their passion does not go unnoticed—or untoyed with—by anyone, especially not by their charismatic acting teacher, Mr. Kingsley.
The outside world of family life and economic status, of academic pressure and of their future adult lives, fails to penetrate this school’s walls—until it does, in a shocking spiral of events that catapults the action forward in time and flips the premise upside-down. What the reader believes to have happened to David and Sarah and their friends is not entirely true—though it’s not false, either. It takes until the book’s stunning coda for the final piece of the puzzle to fall into place—revealing truths that will resonate long after the final sentence.
Number one: There is nothing wrong with the people who read on this audiobook. They do a fine job. Still, I don’t recommend you listen to this one. If you want to read it, read it.
There are, as you’ll have noticed in the summary, some twists and turns to this book; and, unless you’re listening to it with your undivided attention (and you’re probably not because I’m guessing you’re also doing something else at the same time), there are things you will miss and some trickery in the second part of the book that will leave you confused and less than fully up on what’s going on. I'm projecting here, I suppose, because that's the way I felt when I finished the book. And the internet was no help when I tried to find someone who would explain what was "stunning" about that "coda."
Still, I actually did like this book, even if every section changed required me to appreciate it in a new way. Choi expertly captures the anguish that is the high school years.
"Remember the impossible eventfulness of time, transformation and emotion packed like gunpowder into the barrel. Remember the dilation and diffusion, the years within days. Theirs were endless; lives flowered and died between waking and noon."There are all of the trials of friendships that fall apart, first loves that implode in a way that everyone around gets caught up in the fall out, battles with parents, and that one teacher who everyone idolizes. And sex. In all of it's complicated, messy, and ugly forms. And some of it is very ugly.
Which makes the fact that I said I liked this book make me sound a little twisted. So I tried to go back and rephrase that but, for the life of me, I can't figure out the right word or words to use. Maybe it's best to go with that second part of that same sentence and say that I appreciated Choi's writing, the way she told her story, the way she turned things into a story within a story. Many reviewers said Choi is a writer's writer. That may be so; writers who reviewed this book seemed to be much more blown away by it than I was.
Is it for you? As you can tell, I'm conflicted and hard pressed to recommend it even though there was much I admired about this book. Choi has said she was angry the whole time she was writing the book, at the height of the #MeToo movement and in the midst of a divorce. It shows. So I suppose you have to ask yourself if you're in the mood for a book that might make you feel the same way.