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All Souls by Christine Schutt
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Sep 11, 09

Read in August, 2009

Astra Dell, c'etait moi; formerly a teen cancer patient attending an all-girls prep school, I had a natural interest in reading this novel. Schutt captures the emotional complexities of the girl with a life-threatening illness, well aware of Astra's automatic candidacy for sainthood, yet refreshingly portrays her as a three-dimensional, unique character. Cancer serves as a focal point yet never becomes a black hole to engulf the entire narrative. The reader also develops an understanding of the inner and outer conflicts that trouble a wide variety of Astra's classmates: the "popular" crowd, the wealthy whose money guarantees them college admission, the scholarship girl, the eating disordered, the emotionally neglected, the all-too-impossibly perfect. A teacher herself, Schutt describes the lives of the Siddons School faculty, their feelings for and frustrations with their students and each other. Parents both present and absent complete the picture of adolescent life, girls faced with both the ultimate question of mortality and questions of undetermined weight such as what to put on one's yearbook page, what to write for that boring class, what to say and how to act around one's peers.

Some of the characterizations of parents seemed a bit stereotypical (the wealthy, anorexic, fashion-obsessed, neglectful mother), and some of the chapter titles a bit opaque (what does this episode have to do with "fools"?), but the novel as a whole remains true to the experience it seeks to represent.
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