Summary: "Admissions. Admission. Aren't there two sides to the word? And two opposing sides...It's what we let in, but it's also what we let out."
For years, 38-year-old Portia Nathan has avoided the past, hiding behind her busy (and sometimes punishing) career as a Princeton University admissions officer and her dependable domestic life. Her reluctance to confront the truth is suddenly overwhelmed by the resurfacing of a life-altering decision, and Portia is faced with an extraordinary test. Just as thousands of the nation's brightest students await her decision regarding their academic admission, so too must Portia decide whether to make her own ultimate admission.
Admission is at once a fascinating look at the complex college admissions process and an emotional examination of what happens when the secrets of the past return and shake a woman's life to its core. -- Grand Central Publishing
There is so much terrific buzz about ADMISSION by Jean Hanff Korelitz. I have seen very positive reviews popping up everywhere and many of my fellow bloggers seem to have really enjoyed the book. You think that would have been reason enough for me to pick up this book, but it wasn't until I found out that there was going to be a BlogTalk Radio show with Ms. Korelitz that I actually decided to read ADMISSION. Boy am I glad I did -- I loved this book!
One of the very first things that I thought about when I finished this book was the title -- ADMISSION. It is absolutely the perfect name for this novel! It seems like a kind of obvious title since this book is about a college admission officer as well as the college admission process; however, I loved that the title had a second (and more meaningful) interpretation. As mentioned in the book summary above, the word "admission" not only means "getting into" something; it can also mean what we "let out." In the case of Portia, the word "admission" also referred to accepting her past and eventually sharing her secrets.
It did take me about a hundred or so pages before I really got into this book. I mean I definitely liked it, but I wasn't where I couldn't put it down -- that came later. I am pretty sure that I was having problems relating to the character of Portia. She was difficult for me to like, probably because she was so guarded. As the character and story evolved, I did become very caught up in Portia's life and was anxious to find out the secrets about her past. I thought the author did a great job of "teasing" the reader with hints about Portia's college days, and I found myself liking her (and even rooting for her) by the book's end.
There were so many things about this book that I liked that I'm not sure where to start. From an interesting/new-to-me standpoint, I was definitely in awe of the entire college admissions process -- it's such an intense and stressful time for so many students and parents. When I was in high school, I pretty much did a lot of the "right" things to get into a good college -- extracurricular activities, good grades, leadership positions, part-time job, etc. I ended up wanting to go to Penn State (it was the only school I even applied to) and all I had to do was fill out some forms, send a transcript and write a check. There was no essay or even recommendation letters. My application to graduate school required a little more effort, but I still didn't really experience any anxiety. I guess had I decided to apply to an Ivy League school, it would have been a very different experience for me. I know things have changed in 20 years (even at Penn State), but I don't think I had any idea how competitive it is and how many extremely gifted kids are not getting into their first choice of universities. I was actually blown away by how the final decisions about who to accept vs. who not to accept were made; and I was surprised by how much power an admissions officer has.
It was apparent that Ms. Korelitz had an insider's view of the college admissions process and that definitely made the book interesting; however, I was also very impressed with her ability to tell a story. I found the plot interesting and I thought the characters (especially Portia) were complex and very well developed. I also appreciated her writing style, with the beautiful descriptions; and I thought the dialogue seemed very realistic. If you'd like to learn a little more about Ms. Korelitz and the writing of this novel, check out this essay.
This book would make an excellent book club discussion book. I think many people will relate to the entire college admissions process as either a student or as a parent; and it would be so interesting to hear their insight into this story. In addition, there is so much to discuss about Portia's character and her issues. I can't find discussion questions right now; but when I do, I will link to them.
A big thanks to Miriam from Hachette Book Group for sending me an ARC of ADMISSION. Make sure you listen to the BlogTalk Radio show because it was a great one and definitely will enhance your reading experience.
If you are interested in winning a copy of ADMISSION, please leave a comment with your e-mail address telling me why you want to read this book. If you want to double or even triple your chances, you can tweet or blog about this contest with a link back here. The contest will be open until Wednesday, April 30th at 11:59 p.m. The winner will be announced the following day. This contest is open to those of you with U.S. and Canada addresses only -- no p.o. boxes please. Good luck!