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Trust Exercise

3.19  ·  Rating details ·  9,398 ratings  ·  1,826 reviews
Pulitzer Finalist Susan Choi's narrative-upending novel about what happens when a first love between high school students is interrupted by the attentions of a charismatic teacher

In an American suburb in the early 1980s, students at a highly competitive performing arts high school struggle and thrive in a rarified bubble, ambitiously pursuing music, movement, Shakespeare,
Hardcover, 257 pages
Published April 9th 2019 by Henry Holt & Company
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Joseph Pfeffer The ending struck me as peculiarly unsatisfying. Does Claire think Mr. Kingsley (now called Robert Lord) is her father? Is he her father? If he is,…moreThe ending struck me as peculiarly unsatisfying. Does Claire think Mr. Kingsley (now called Robert Lord) is her father? Is he her father? If he is, the ending is as creepy as it can get, and it's obvious why Claire vomits and leaves. But in the previous chapter, we learn that Martin is Claire's father. The "real" ending of the book (yet another spolier alert, but if you're asking this question you must have read it) comes when Karen loads the stage gun with live ammunition and shoots Martin in the crotch. (A nod to Birdman.) Or at least that's what seems to happen. The problem, or perhaps the theme, of Trust Exercise seems to be that no one can know what happened because we're all locked into our own points of view, our own "Truths," our own spin. What's clear in the end is that "Mr. Kingsley" is the book's villain, that he's corrupted all the students, male and female, and they'll never get beyond this corruption. He seems to have molested, or groomed, David, Manuel, Sarah, and Karen, and no doubt scores of other. But then Martin, from across the pond, has done the same thing with his students. Are Mr. Kingsley and Martin the same person, both Robert Lord? If they are, then we can "trust" virtually nothing in Trust Exercise. Choi deliberately leaves us with nothing but loose ends, the loosest of all being Claire, who her real parents are, and what became of her mother. Do I like this book? No. Did I get obsessed with it? Yes. It's far more compelling than Asymmetry, and its conundrums may stay with me forever. (less)

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 ·  9,398 ratings  ·  1,826 reviews

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Larry H
Nov 17, 2018 rated it did not like it
Shelves: netgalley
Wow, this one didn't work for me at all. Given how much I read I guess it's surprising that it doesn't happen more often.

Susan Choi's newest book, Trust Exercise , is a marvel of language and imagery, but on the whole, I found it confusing, a bit meandering, and once Choi flipped the script on the plot, I wondered whether what I was reading was actually happening or if it was a figment of the characters' imagination.

The book took place in the early 1980s at the Citywide Academy for the
Ron Charles
Apr 08, 2019 rated it really liked it
One lurks in every high school: a charismatic teacher who cultivates a clique of acolytes. Miss Jean Brodie aside, this teacher is typically a man in his prime, parceling out the precious gift of his intimacy to a select group. No matter how many years have passed, you can probably still recall his name at your own school: the droll iconoclast who always seemed at odds with the administration, the cool teacher who made thrillingly inappropriate asides. Amid rumors of some past glory, he radiated ...more
Julie Ehlers
Trust Exercise is a novel about a performing-arts high school in a sprawling southern city that for some reason is never named (it's Houston). The first half of it is told from the point of view of Sarah, one of the students, who goes through the usual issues with friends and boyfriends and parents, although everything is ratcheted up to 11 here, I guess to emphasize that performing-arts schools can be a tad... dramatic? Self-important? Certainly the writing in the first half of the book would ...more
Becca Hoetger
May 13, 2019 rated it liked it
Shelves: book-club-1
ME to SUSAN CHOI: “I did not enjoy this book.”
Susan: “You did not enjoy this book.”

“I did not enjoy this book.”
“You did not enjoy this book.”

“I did not enjoy this book.”
You did not enjoy this book.”

“I did not enjoy this book.”
“You did not enjoy this book.”

You’ll get it after reading the Trust Exercise... or maybe you won’t. Which is exactly where I am after reading this book. WHAT HAPPENED?! I really need someone to tell me because I do not understand it! I didn’t understand who was who, who
Adam Dalva
Jan 26, 2019 rated it really liked it
Incredibly ambitious structurally, with a shape that is more organically interesting than ASYMMETRY (which it is quite similar to). Reminds me a bit of SPECIAL TOPICS IN CALAMITY PHYSICS, but loses its connection to the fun teen drama that propels the first 100 pages of the novel. A very, very fun book to talk about, and think about. I'm just not sure: the ambiguity about what is true at the end of the novel is a slight misstep - I would have liked this a touch better if, toward the end, there ...more
Elyse  Walters
Sep 08, 2019 rated it did not like it
Curiosity got the best of me.
I knew I wasn’t going to buy this book…but when the library had it available as an ebook on Overdrive, I thought I’d check out what all fuss was about.

I saw 1 star reviews from friends that I’d never seen rate ‘any’ book lower than 3 stars.
But then...
Lots of 5 stars followed.

It didn’t take a rocket scientist to know there was some kind of controversy over this book.
Well, yeah... the author is a Pulitzer Prize finalist. Made me wonder - how bad could the book be?

Update, 11/22/19: Trust Exercise has won the National Book Award. What were they smoking?!

(Full disclosure: Book abandoned on page 61 [out of 257 pages].)

It's so important to care about characters, really care, to be invested in what happens in a story. I couldn't care less about those in Susan Choi's Trust Exercise. In part one, the story is about high school freshmen David and Sarah studying drama in the early 1980s as they develop a romantic relationship. I couldn’t get a
Apr 08, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: usa, 2019-read
Now Winner of the National Book Award 2019
This experimental novel discusses consent by shifting timelines and perspectives, thus forcing the reader to question and re-adjust which characters to trust - and it's no spoiler to state that in the end, no one will turn out to be who you thought they'd be. Choi starts with a high school drama that then turns into a meta-fictional revenge tale only to end in an even more disturbing coda, and I just love how she defies expectations and disrupts
Jan 13, 2019 rated it liked it
To one degree or another we are manipulated by writers. I don’t think it matters if we read fiction or nonfiction we are influenced just the same. Skillful writers tinker with our beliefs, emotions, philosophies, knowledge (or lack thereof) and so much more. On some level, regardless if we agree or disagree or if we like or dislike what is presented, an element of trust comes into play. Beyond the trust exercises that the characters engage in during theater classes, this novel is an exercise in ...more
Dec 04, 2018 rated it did not like it
Thank you to Henry Holt & Company and Netgalley for the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.

Boy, oh boy - where to start? Unfortunately, I have no real positive things to say about this book. I have had it for weeks. Within the first 10 pages I knew this was going to be something I would struggle with. The best way I can describe it is trying to read a book while it's under water. It's never quite fully in focus and I felt like I was only picking up every other
Jessica Woodbury
Jan 10, 2019 rated it it was amazing
This is a book that has some structural tricks up its sleeve, similar to books like FATES & FURIES and ASYMMETRY. So you need to proceed with caution when reading anything about it. Just saying it plays with structure feels like a bit of a spoiler, but in this case (like both the books I mentioned before) I think it's good to know because some may find the first section of the book grating enough to quit, not knowing what they are losing by bailing early. Like the other two books, I'd ...more
Wanted to enjoy this one but I struggled to connect to the characters. From the reviews I read on Goodreads, people have mixed feelings about the structure of this book – the experimental nature of it, the unreliable narrator, the ambiguity of the plot, etc. For me, all of those components felt secondary to how I could not connect to or grasp the characters on an emotional level from the very beginning of the story. They all felt like composites of characters, perhaps because Susan Choi ...more
Jenny (Reading Envy)
This is a hard novel to discuss without ruining the experience so I will just say it starts out with high school students in an arts magnet school with a lot of theater focus. I read it because it was on the Tournament of Books Camp Tob list.

More detailed thoughts that I'll hide behind a spoiler. I really recommend reading this without reading about it.

(view spoiler)
Jan 01, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: audiobook
[4+] What a scintillating surprise! I probably wouldn't have read this novel if it hadn't won the National Book Award. Fortunately, my curiosity won out over the mixed reviews. Choi's sharp-edged portrayal of a group of 15 and 16 year old classmates reminded me of my teen years in theatre. Yes, the novel does turn tricky and elusive - but I was captivated, even electrified, throughout. This would be a great book to discuss - I have so many questions! (I really enjoyed the audiobook production ...more
Apr 22, 2019 added it
Shelves: reviewed
Ugh, I loved (although admittedly do not remember) My Education, but I found this unbearable. Sadly, DNF.
(If this had been a real-life Trust Exercise, I’d hope for a workaday ground-level trust fall rather than a tree canopy ropes course, as I found myself Not Caught.)
Dec 19, 2019 rated it it was ok
A summary of my thoughts about Trust Exercise is that it’s a no from me.

At a very basic level, by the end of the novel I could see what Choi was trying to do here, and I guess that’s what the 2 stars are for. Maybe they’re also for the fact that this somehow has wowed a lot of people including the National Book Award people, go you Susan Choi.

Ordinarily I like unreliable narrators and narratives, and I appreciate discussion of what we think we know to be true, and how it is we think we know
Jul 06, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Trust Exercise. There are seemingly infinite variations but most of us know what it means: surrendering to processes such as falling backwards and hoping to be caught or sharing intimate remembrances in a group and hoping to be accepted.

We all understand the meaning of trust exercises. Or do we?

In Susan Choi’s brilliant novel, we meet a group of students who are attending a gifted performing arts school, majoring in theatre. Two of the students are the focal point — David and Sarah, who become
Apr 21, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Oh, this is a tricky one, and the less you know about it going in, the better. I especially enjoyed Choi’s use of voice, the switchbacks in characterizations, the timeliness, and the witty way Choi messes with readers’ expectations. Just read it!
Dec 21, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: modern-fiction
This was one of my favorite novels of 2019. I picked it up after some friends had raved about it, and now I'm going to do my best to rave about it to you.

The story starts at a prestigious high school for students in the performing arts, somewhere in the American South. (The city's location isn't named, but I've seen other reviewers who have speculated that the description points to Houston, Texas.) The reader meets Sarah and David, two teenagers who are madly in love, until they aren't. The
David Yoon
Jul 28, 2019 rated it liked it
I was on board for the first part of the book. Sarah and David perfectly capture the drama of highschool romance. For David love is a declaration requiring a grand gesture, but Sarah instinctively recoils at the PDA and hurts David. It just spirals from there, things escalating in their minds. Add to that the fact of them being drama nerds and its becomes altogether extra. I wanted more of this (and I'd get it shortly with Sarah Rooney's Normal People) but then Susan Choi switches gears. It's ...more
Nov 24, 2019 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
[Spoiler-ish discussion ahead - proceed at your own risk!]

2.5, rounded up.

This is one of those books that is probably more fun to discuss and argue about with friends than it is to actually read. Much has been made about the internecine structure and how clever it is, but I didn't find it all that original or revelatory ... and the lack of any final resolution, or even narrative coherency, bothered me, even though that was obviously intentional.

Having been a 'theatre kid' myself, I DID relate
Jerrie (redwritinghood)
Probably my biggest issue with this book is that I just didn’t care what happened to any of the characters. They were all drawn as petty children, parochial in their own sense of their worldliness. I think that was intentional, but even unlikable characters can be interesting if there is a story that works. This one doesn’t. The first part is very dramatic as only a teen girl could be. This part reminded me a lot of Meg Wolitzer in “The Interestings”. The second part switches to a different ...more
Apr 05, 2019 rated it did not like it
Wow—what to say? Perhaps I should start by noting that so many critics love this book—starred reviews in Kirkus, Publisher’s Weekly and so many others and a multi-page favorable spread in The New Yorker. I have to admit I’m baffled by this, as Trust Exercise shook my trust in critics and became an exercise in endurance. The novel starts out as the story of students in a performing arts high school and quickly zeroes in on two of them, Sarah and David, who share a passionate summer love affair ...more
switterbug (Betsey)
Jun 14, 2019 rated it it was amazing
How much literary baggage do you carry with you as you enter a novel? I’m not talking about your personal life angst, although that’s material in Choi’s new story, especially the teenage years. But I mean expectation. If the author takes off in a direction not foreshadowed, will you discount her methods? Do you not trust her when that happens, or can you flirt with the idea that your mistrust is misplaced? What kind of contract is forged between reader and writer—that’s a big part of Choi’s ...more
Jennifer Blankfein
Dec 07, 2019 rated it it was amazing
This book demands an attentive reader and requires some work to break it down - much like Asymmetry, there are three sections, different points of view, and so much to discuss. Choi shows us how we create our own narratives, how teenagers can be blinded and manipulated by authority figures and emotions, and how memory can be clouded by time and choice. I loved so much about Trust Exercise and am looking forward to my book group meeting next month. Always great to discover a shorter book (257 ...more
Apr 20, 2019 marked it as never-finishing
DNF. Insufferable.
Feb 06, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: librarything
Susan and David are students at the Citywide Academy for the Performing Arts (CAPA). This school is a highly competitive school, teaching music, Shakespeare, movement and acting. Susan and David are passionately in love and consummate their love during the summer. However, when they return to school in the fall, their relationship falls apart. Their struggle becomes much more public when Mr. Kingsley makes them the cruel focus during his trust exercises.

I really don’t want to say much about the
Apr 14, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2019
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Nov 30, 2019 rated it it was ok

Rating: 2.5/5.0

Literary Fiction

National Book Award Winner for Fiction (2019)

The story takes place in the 1980s at an art performing academy where the students are grouped to learn acting, music, etc. At first, we follow the relationship between two students, David and Sarah. They both start with a passionate bond but soon this relationship fizzles because others will intervene and try to manipulate their bond. Then comes other characters into the picture and take the spotlight!

What I
Aug 01, 2019 rated it it was amazing

Reading Susan Choi for me is always a trust exercise but I have yet to lose my faith in her. I have learned that she rarely goes where I think she is going. Her theme in the novels I have read before (A Person of Interest and My Education), as well as in this one, is self-perception and self-preservation. It is no wonder that radical shifts take place as a hallmark of her fiction.

The title of this novel comes from a training step for acting students in a performing arts high school located in an
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topics  posts  views  last activity   
Tournament of Books: Trust Exercise 16 126 Jan 19, 2020 02:17PM  
Prize Readers: 2019 NBA Fiction Longlist: Trust Exercise 5 36 Nov 22, 2019 09:31AM  
The Wild Detectiv...: Susan Choi's Trust Exercise 1 17 Oct 22, 2019 07:52AM  
Play Book Tag: Trust Exercise by Susan Choi / 3 stars 3 52 Jun 26, 2019 04:34AM  
Mt. Lebanon Publi...: Trust Exercise by Susan Choi 1 23 Jun 07, 2019 07:41AM  
Goodreads Librari...: Incorrect First Published Year 3 203 Nov 28, 2018 07:20AM  

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Susan Choi was born in South Bend, Indiana and was raised there and in Houston, Texas. She studied literature at Yale and writing at Cornell, and worked for several years as a fact-checker for The New Yorker.

Her first novel, The Foreign Student, won the Asian-American Literary Award for fiction, and her second novel, American Woman, was a finalist for the 2004 Pulitzer Prize.

With David Remnick
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“Thoughts are often false. A feeling's always real. Not true, just real” 4 likes
“To David, love meant declaration. Wasn't that the whole point? To Sarah, love meant a shared secret. Wasn't that the whole point?” 3 likes
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