Danielle's Reviews > Admission

Admission by Jean Hanff Korelitz
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Jun 29, 09

** spoiler alert ** I picked this book up about 4 times, and left the store without it because something about the jacket copy was off-putting. Maybe it was that the central plot twist of the book seemed really obvious just from the jacket summary, and I wasn’t sure it was enough to sustain a novel that long. I’m glad I finally picked it up though: when this book is good, it is very very good. It’s descriptions of relationships—both romantic and familial—are generally quite well rendered and lovely and excruciating. I liked the way each chapter began with a snippet of essay—they never seemed to cutely to directly address the following chapter, but the sum of them, along with some of the insights about the application process and specific kids applications, served to underscore this sense of there being such a difference between who people think they’ll be when the world is full of possibility, and the less romantic adults that most people eventually turn into and alternately hate and comfort themselves for becoming, which is kind of what Portia’s problem is when we meet her.
Most of the writing is quite lovely, and the characters are well drawn and sympathetic. I felt like the admissions talk got a bit redundant as the book went on. No matter how lovely the writing is, you don’t really want to read the same point, or the same description of the admissions process 18 times, especially since, as the book jokes, everyone who’s ever left college admissions has written a tell all book, so it’s not exactly like she’s giving away secrets here. I get that part of it is we’re supposed to empathize with the fact that people ask Portia the same questions over and over again, but I really don’t think we need to see as many of these conversations as we do, especially when they slow down the more interesting stuff and start to feel a bit tedious. The bigger issue, for me, was that the central plot twist felt a bit unrealistic—Tom felt kind of hollow and underdeveloped, compared to the rest of the characters, and I wasn’t quite convinced by what happened between them in Europe. It seemed kind of unrealistic (especially after the book made a big point of how in demand health white newborns are in adoption circles), that the baby would have ended up with grocery clerks who couldn’t afford a home computer. I wasn’t quite sure what to make of the emphasis on the adoptive parents being Armenian—it seemed at times like the book was leaning on this as the potential reason that the parents were unable to connect with their son, or value education, which was kind of bizarre and uncomfortable. I thought Portia’s big sacrifice made sense on her end, but I was a little bit less sold on the idea that Princeton was the only place Jeremiah would be happy, however in love with the school he was, and I thought there were other ways she could have helped him. But perhaps I’m biased because the only time I was at Princeton they were handing out champagne in the streets and I ended up drinking cheap beer in the basement of an eating club while the whole room sang along to The Sweater Song, and I probably missed the magical transformative educational properties of the school.
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