Eilene's Reviews > Admission

Admission by Jean Hanff Korelitz
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Jan 24, 13

Read from January 22 to 24, 2013

Okay, I'll admit I picked up my version of this book because it had Tina Fey on the cover. I thought if Tina Fey was going to be associated with a film version, than it was probably worth a read. And I was right, so in the future, if you want to sell me a book, put Tina Fey on the cover and I will read it with very few questions asked.

The story is about Portia Nathan, a late-thirties admissions officer at Princeton who takes her job very seriously. She is very thoughtful about admissions work, considers each candidate carefully, and understands that very great applicants are not getting in, simply because there are a great many applicants and so few spots. She feels this painfully, and it is a sad reality that dominates her worldview but still manages to break her heart each time the rejection letters go out.

Of course, Portia has her own, personal secrets that to discuss too much at this point would constitute a spoiler. So the story trips through the admission season, and Portia finds herself going to tremendous lengths for an applicant for many complicated reasons.

I would not call this chick lit, although it does have many of the same markings. A female main character who is refreshingly free of the usual hang-ups--she doesn't worry about being fat, she has a steady partner, and she is confident in herself and her profession, if not all of her choices. There is romance, there is heartbreak, but they play second stage to the main drama in Portia's life--which is with herself, and choices made when she was very, very young. When her carefully constructed life starts to fall apart, she has to make an admission (see what I did there? See?) before she can move forward.

One thing I really enjoyed about this were some of the tangents that the author took--the several paragraph interludes where Portia considers what it means to claim she is Jewish (she is, for the record), mashing together some hilarious imagery to answer a fairly straight-forward question. I love it when authors have developed their characters enough to take those flights of fancy, and it seems so real.

I also leaned a lot about the college admissions process--and it gave me some insight into how I might handle that when my son gets old enough to worry about it. The idea of legacy admits v. affirmative action (I am watering it down and simplifying it to an almost unforgivable degree) was an interesting discussion--that in many instances, people's grandfathers and fathers went to these major Ivy League institutions and their offspring, who are far more well-rounded and prepared, are being denied admittance simply because there are so many other talented applicants. And how the University is really a better place for it, in some ways--the diversity and the different experiences strengthen the experience for everyone. But it is heartbreaking for those who are being denied a family tradition, through no fault of their own. And those who expect admittance based on the legacy, and are galling enough to admit to such a thing, are usually denied promptly. At least in the land that was this novel.


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