Sheila's Reviews > Admission

Admission by Jean Hanff Korelitz
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May 27, 10

bookshelves: cultural, current_issues, relationships
Read in April, 2010

Admission, by Jean Hanff Korelitz, centers on the life and struggles of an admissions officer at Princeton University. The fact that the author was a part-time reader for Princeton’s Office of Admission is a bonus, lending authenticity to an environment that already feels very real and totally convincing. But the book is not just about the university admissions process. There are other admissions—admitting people into your life, admitting secrets to yourself and others, admitting who you are and who you have been, admitting your hopes and failures—and all of these are addressed in Korelitz’s novel.

Thirty-year-old Portia Nathan is driving around the countryside visiting schools, explaining the admissions process, and encouraging students to apply. She finally comes to a new experimental school about to matriculate its first senior class, and finds herself oddly drawn to one of the teachers. The students are fascinating and delightfully different, leading the reader to share in Portia’s interest. And the teacher is a well-drawn character with secrets and mysteries of his own.

Portia considers herself totally different from the mother who raised her, a radical single Mom who always gave Portia too much information and too much encouraging direction. But, like her mother, Portia characterizes herself by the people, in her case prospective students, that she helps, and fails to help herself.

Arguments about the admissions process in England and the US, discussions of fairness and how it applies to something so subjective, philosophical side-issues, embarrassing missteps and cues overlooked, the trials and moral dilemmas of old and young, all bring depth and fascination to the book. Meanwhile the reader begins to guess the secret in Portia’s past, and Portia slowly loses the ability to hide.

Portia’s emotions, arguments, reactions and pain are all so beautifully portrayed that I couldn’t put this book down. Even as I guessed and thought “Surely not,” I knew the explanation would make perfect sense. The author keeps the surprises and revelations flowing right to the final page, cleverly leaving practical details to the imagination while emotional ones are fully admitted and confirmed. Admission is a truly satisfying, eye-opening read, a powerful surprising story filled with real characters, believable (sometimes tragic, sometimes hilarious) quotes from imaginary college entrance essays, and fascinating explanation of the “other side” to the admissions process. Highly recommended.
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