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His Favorites

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A “tense, taut, and thrilling” (Marie Claire) novel about a teenage girl, a predatory teacher, and a school’s complicity from the highly acclaimed, bestselling National Book Award finalist and author of A Short History of Women—“riveting, terrifying, exactly the book for our times” (Ann Patchett).

They were on a lark, three teenaged girls speeding across the greens at night on a “borrowed” golf cart, drunk. The cart crashes and one of the girls lands violently in the rough, killed instantly. The driver, Jo, flees the hometown that has turned against her and enrolls at a prestigious boarding school. Her past weighs on her. She is responsible for the death of her best friend. She has tipped her parents’ rocky marriage into demise. She is ready to begin again, far away from the accident.

“Devastatingly relevant” (Vogue) and “fueled by gorgeous writing” (NPR), His Favorites reveals the interior life of a young woman determined to navigate the treachery in a new world. Told from her perspective many years later, the story coolly describes a series of shattering events and a school that failed to protect her. “Before things turn treacherous, there’s a moment when predation can feel dangerously like kindness…Walbert understands this…His Favorites begs to be read” (Time).

160 pages, Paperback

First published August 14, 2018

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About the author

Kate Walbert

10 books192 followers
Kate Walbert was born in New York City and raised in Georgia, Texas, Japan and Pennsylvania, among other places.

She is the author of A Short History of Women, chosen by The New York Times Book Review as one of the ten best books of 2009 and a finalist for the LA Times Book Prize; Our Kind, a finalist for the National Book Award in fiction in 2004; The Gardens of Kyoto, winner of the 2002 Connecticut Book Award in Fiction in 2002; and Where She Went, a collection of linked stories and New York Times notable book.

She is the recipient of a National Endowment for the Arts fiction fellowship, a Connecticut Commission on the Arts fiction fellowship, and a Dorothy and Lewis B. Cullman Fellowship at the New York Public Library.

Her short fiction has been published in The New Yorker, The Paris Review, The Best American Short Stories and The O. Henry Prize stories.

From 1990 to 2005, she lectured in fiction writing at Yale University. She currently lives in New York City with her family.

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5 stars
342 (11%)
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880 (29%)
3 stars
1,126 (37%)
2 stars
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Displaying 1 - 30 of 444 reviews
Profile Image for Diane S ☔.
4,782 reviews14.2k followers
August 28, 2018
DEVASTATING BUT TIMELY. Three young girls, fifteen, drinking, decide on a lark, stealing a golf cart for a wild, nighly ride, that has a horrific end. Enough so a mother feels the urgent need to give her daughter a new start, sending her away to a boarding school. What she encounters there will haunt her for the rest of her life.

The me too movement, the abuse scandals in the Catholic Church, people entrusted with power of one sort or another, instead use it for their own gain. Preying on the weakest, able somehow to suss them out of s crowd. This book, relatively short, shows just how it's done. Teenage girls, wanting to be popular, part of the in crowd, ignoring the little voice that tells them it is wrong. Bullying, of one who is different, doesn't fit with the crowd, so heartbreaking.

Believe me, this small book packs a punch. Beautiful prose, direct, alternating between the before and after. Hard to read, but necessary I think if one has daughters or granddaughters. If the grown women in the Me too movement found themselves victimized, what chance do the young have?

ARC from Edelweiss.
Profile Image for Maxwell.
1,174 reviews8,391 followers
June 10, 2019
I picked this up on a whim at the library having heard nothing about it beforehand. I'd hazard to say that this book should be read without reading the blurb on the cover's flap, as it gives quite a bit away that happens within the first 10 pages and are more enjoyable upon one's own discovery. Nonetheless, I adored Walbert's writing style. She captures intensity so well, a poetic expression of grief and sorrow and rage and angst. But it is short-lived; the book is only 160 pages and definitely feels like it. I could've done with a little bit more development to really push this book to the edge, since she was already going there. In the end I felt she held off a tiny bit and could've used more oomph, but overall an engaging and compelling and timely read.
Profile Image for Perry.
632 reviews532 followers
August 29, 2018
Pugilistic pack of punch, pop, pummel--at 160 pages--for this era of reckoning for men who've abused positions of power and trust to sexually assault, rape and/or sexually harass females. His Favorites sketches--in shades of charcoal looking back from today-- the type of mental devastation suffered by a woman who was violated as a 15-year-old at a private boarding school in the early 1980s, and the detritis, still, of dreams wrecked by a charming pedophile who targeted her among many others most vulnerable. Almost as wretched are the legion of absolutely pathetic excuses of lily-livered and lecherous administrators for their non-action and outright concealment, which can fire up the blood to boiling.

One would be hard-pressed to find a novel more seasonable to the cultural moment. See, e.g., New York Times, 8/18/18, At Hotchkiss, Sexual Misconduct and ‘Missed Opportunities’ to Stop It ; and, Washington Post, 8/19/18, ‘I’m full of outrage now’: Former students allege decades-old sexual abuse at Maryland private school

A dynamite little novel.
Profile Image for Kate.
2,061 reviews77 followers
May 17, 2018
I thought this was going to a winner for me. I love the plot- a 15 year old girl accidentally kills her best friend, her parents marriage tanks, and she finds herself at a boarding school where an English teacher preys upon his favorites.

But I found the writing style stiff and jumpy. So much is left unsaid, unexplained. For such a short book, it gets bogged down by long sentences and constant detours.

It is a short read, so if you like Walberts writing style, then you may very well enjoy this. I just never connected with Jo, and with all she went through, I really should have.
Profile Image for Jennifer Blankfein.
384 reviews655 followers
August 6, 2018
With sparse, lyrical language, author of His Favorites, Kate Walbert, shines a light on women’s rights as she tells us about Jo’s tragic and unsettling experiences. After being in a deadly accident at 15 years old with her best friends, Jo, a wild and now emotionally broken high school student is sent off to boarding school. Her life at home crumbled, her friendships broken, and the new beginning her life away at school had the potential of being is not going in the right direction. Memories and stories weave together our understanding of who Jo is…and how an irresponsible female teenager, faced with tragedy and then coerced by a sweet talking man, may not get the support she needed to fight back and stand up for herself.

With Jo’s best friend dead and her parents separated, she blames herself and feels the heavy weight of responsibility. To start fresh she begins attending a boarding school, but not with a clean slate. She is consumed with guilt and is having trouble fitting in. She has a labored relationship with her quirky roommate, and unacceptable interactions of the “me too” variety with a charismatic albeit inappropriate male teacher. Her vulnerability attracts trouble, her cry for help is ignored and her most effective escape from reality consists of drugs, alcohol and trying to keep her mind dark and empty.

Reading this brief 150 page book generated overwhelming feelings of hurt and sorrow, along with anger and outrage. I found Jo to be lost and desperate, abandoned by her family and friends from home, and abused and damaged by people who were supposed to help. When she reached out for support she was belittled and rejected. Like many who suffer abuse and never get the chance to speak out and be heard, Jo carries the burden and the heavy heart. This is an important book for all to read – life is not always easy but we must all lift each other up, protect one another and stand up for our rights and others. I highly recommend this one.
Follow Book Nation by Jen for all reviews and recommendations.
Profile Image for Lark Benobi.
Author 1 book2,135 followers
April 20, 2020
Somehow this book escaped me last year and it wasn't until I read a review of My Dark Vanessa that mentioned it that I sought it out.

As someone who grew up next to a golf course, and who spent my pre-kindergarten days, even the rain-pelting-down days (it was Seattle, after all), walking the golf course behind my scratch-golfer mother, I might be predisposed to adore this book more than others, because Walbert nails golf-course rhythms, golf-course culture, golf-course smells so accurately in the beginning of her novel.

But putting that bias aside to just talk about the richness, the mental anguish, the sweet humanity of Walbert's protagonist, Jo...well. I was overwhelmed by the novel's narrative power, and by the story told through Jo's eyes. Every character is so richly drawn. The mentality of being fifteen, and how adults treat a fifteen year old girl, is captured here so vividly. Scene after scene is written with such confidence, in a way that's both delicate and devastating. Every word seems perfectly chosen, not in a fussy-perfect way, but in a way that one word propels the story forward to the next word, and the next, in support of the story the author wants to tell.

I'm trying to think of another author who achieves such a sensitive balance of inner life and outer realities in their writing, and I come up with Ali Smith. I suppose there is a bit of resemblance to Anna Burns's narrator in Milkman here, too, in the way I feel the humanity and the heart of Walbert's Jo, her spirit singing out on every page, even as she is describing such a desperate time in her life. But Walbert is her own voice. This is a perfect little book and it deserves your time to read it.
Profile Image for Emma Eisenberg.
Author 8 books184 followers
February 14, 2019
A stunner of a nugget, but ultimately unsatisfying for me sadly. On the sentence level Walbert slays, but the ambition of this book simply feels bigger than 149 pages allows, no matter how artfully arranged. I would have liked to see this book more fully imagined & realized. The Master and those at the boarding school read like cartoon villains, when perhaps what is most insidious about predators in these environments are the ways they are also human. Would have liked to see more bodies on the page, and less lyricism.
Profile Image for Danni.
927 reviews6 followers
July 3, 2018
Honestly if this weren't so short, I might have abandoned halfway through.

Jo kills her friend when recklessly driving a golf cart late at night, and so she gets sent away to boarding school, where she is preyed upon by a teacher.

This a plot that I would expect to like, but the characters are never properly developed and the issues not fully explored. The writing is lovely but meandering.

Would not recommend.
Profile Image for Elle K.
202 reviews12 followers
September 26, 2018
Spotty and filled with run-on sentences that empty the story. There are better novels that tackle similar issues.
Profile Image for Karen Foster.
689 reviews2 followers
June 3, 2018
There are times when you just feel you are in the safe hands of a truly skilled writer.
As an older Jo narrates her tragic tale, looking back to when she is 15, she wanders off course, as memories materialize vividly, relaying her heartbreaking account, often veering away from the chronology. It’s as though she cannot bear to tell us what happened to her. And this kept me so gripped, anxious to discover her story.
The writing is sparse and exact, yet I really connected with Jo..... It’s a style I know doesn’t work for everyone but I really loved it. A tough read, and unfortunately Jo’s treatment and experience is all too familiar. As Jo is told ‘Make big waves, and you’ll swamp your own boat’.... my heart just broke....
Profile Image for Chelsea Humphrey.
1,483 reviews79k followers
August 7, 2018
I think it comes down to the fact that this one just wasn’t for me. I wanted more, and it wasn’t what I had expected from the blurb on the back. The writing is excellent though, and I would be interested in reading another plot from Walbert in the future.
Profile Image for Martie Nees Record.
690 reviews144 followers
November 15, 2018
Rating: 3.5 Stars
Genre: General Fiction
Publisher: Scribner
Pub. Date: Aug. 14, 2018

"His Favorites” is a slice of life story about the wealthy with two different plotlines connected by the female protagonist, Jo. It is written by the acclaimed American author Kate Walbert. Similar to Curtis Sittenfeld’s debut novel, “Prep,” this tale is a powerful coming of age story that spotlights (no matter how rich you are) the vulnerability and powerlessness of female girls. Unlike “Prep,” there is no laughter in “Favorites.” This is a sad story which might have been easier to read with a little tension-cutting humor. Walbert is also writing on the same female issues that follow girls into womanhood. The story is narrated by an adult Jo, who is recounting painful memories. In the 1970s, she was twice traumatized.

At fifteen, she and her two childhood best friends go on a drunken joyride in a golf cart. Jo is the driver. The ride ends tragically when the golf cart flips over. Two girls are left laughing and the third girl is left dead. The author asks the reader to question if the tragedy is a type of privileged entrapment. The girls are usually unsupervised. They live on the grounds of a country club. They know where the golf cart keys are kept. Did Jo really do anything that most teens in her position wouldn’t have done? I don’t think so, do you? Nevertheless, after the death of her friend, Jo becomes the neighborhood’s version of a human pariah—Avoided. Detested. The dead girl’s mother, who is like a second mother to Jo, spits on her. Her parents pretty much desert her. Scared, alone, grieving her friend and brimming with endless guilt, she is sent off to a boarding school in New England. I felt real anger at how heartlessly Jo is punished for being a teenager.

The second plotline begins at the boarding school. It feels as if Jo is once again set up by affluent adults. Isolated from family and friends she is easy pickings to become the next favorite (there are/were many) of her 34-year-old male teacher. She has an unwanted sexual relationship with him. The author now goes into society’s sexual unfavorable biases towards females of all ages. She nails why Jo or the other girls didn’t say anything to the school’s authorities about their teacher’s sexual misconduct. Who would believe them? He is a powerful man and an academic award-winning teacher. Who would believe them? Everyone knows that girls and women have embellished imaginations. Who would believe them? None of the girls actually said no. They were so manipulated into the relationship that they themselves never realized that they were abused. Of course, they were but, The Me Too Movement is decades away. Hopefully, the days of powerful men getting off scot-free are nearing an ending.

The reader never learns how adult Jo coped living with so much undeserved shame. Was the rest of her life a wipeout like another one of the professor’s favorites? Adult Jo has an unexpected encounter with her. The other favorite now suffers from a cocaine problem. (Possible Spoiler) After this meeting, the author teases the reader with the idea, ‘that the power might finally be in Jo’s hands.’ But, we really don’t know. I have mixed feelings on the novel’s conclusion. I think I would have preferred going back full circle to the story's beginning with an explained ending. But then again, Walbert’s ending gives me food for thought. In a weird way, it is similar to the last scene in the last episode of another fictional wealthy family—“The Sopranos.” Does, Tony live or doesn’t he? We are left with the same question regarding Jo.

I received this Advance Review Copy (ARC) novel from the publisher at no cost in exchange for an honest review.

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Profile Image for Alison Hardtmann.
1,295 reviews2 followers
December 4, 2018
His Favorites by Kate Walbert is a novel best read with as little knowledge about it as possible. The book begins with fifteen-year-old Jo hanging out with her two best friends one night, when they decide to steal a golf cart and go joy-riding around the course.

His Favorites is a very short novel, that covers a lot of ground, but each paragraph and sentence is so well-crafted, and the book is so well put together that it has the impact of a much larger work. If you decide to read it, I highly recommend learning as little about the plot as possible.
29 reviews
December 10, 2018
Contains some of the longest run-on sentences that I have ever read. So long that I had to read them again to remember what the subject of the sentence was meant to be. For example, pages 51 and 52. The book is difficult to follow as it jumps around in time without any indication.

While the topics are relevant, the execution and resolutions/conclusions of them are lacking. At least, for me. As they say, to each his own.

Profile Image for Patrick Brown.
142 reviews2,470 followers
May 31, 2019
Kind of a strange book from a pacing perspective. I struggled through the first 30-40 pages, and then read the rest in basically one sitting. Some beautiful writing and a fun, tricky narrative.
Profile Image for Holly.
1,012 reviews227 followers
November 17, 2018
This was really excellent. I remember how Walbert's A Short History of Women left me kind of cold, but this short novel struck me. The final image is incredibly sad and very powerful. After reading this I am all the more infuriated by Betsy DeVos's proposed new "protections" for the accused in school sexual harassment/assault cases.
Profile Image for Diana.
427 reviews
August 23, 2018
I’m being generous with the three stars; this tale was a waste of time. Too many stories out there like it, but written much better, or simply true.
Profile Image for reading is my hustle.
1,508 reviews298 followers
May 15, 2020
this is a timely read for #metoo & another devastating story of trauma. it is upsetting to read the many accounts & instances where grown-ups failed to protect young women (in both fiction & non-fiction). in this novel, a young woman remembers past events & reveals only fragments of her memories. i found the writing in this book to be reflective of memory; it's not always linear, the narrative wanders a bit, and at times it's strange. the way this story is told won't be for everyone but i found it affecting.
710 reviews
October 15, 2018
I regret reading this book. There's a huge set-up - a deep dark, premise that is intriguing - yet the actual plot is a complete let down.

That being said, I felt like the actual story was true to real life. The author describes several instances of female characters being abused, violated, let down, etc. in many contexts. The result is sort of a "free association" or train-of-thought retelling of the author's experiences being abused by a teacher. This fits with how we often remember stories, connecting what to others may seem to be irrelevant details or side plots and weaving them into the narrative of our life. Unfortunately, though realistic it did not lead to a compelling read. The plot arcs I cared about were neglected and random anecdotes took up too much space in this short novel. Similarly, the main character is sort of a blank slate - I don't feel like I grew to know her at all throughout the story, and she thus becomes a stand in for any woman. A pretty profound commentary on the abuse of women right? Too bad it is executed so dully that any insights are lost.

2/5 Despite moments of profound insight, overall the plot and writing are dull.
Profile Image for Aria.
483 reviews40 followers
June 1, 2018
---- Disclosure: I received this book for free from Goodreads. ----

Idk wth is going on here, but there was no point in trying to get to the end of this when it wasn't making any sense at all. Maybe there is a story in there somewhere, but I have no idea what it might be. It jumped around. The run-on sentences were ridiculous. No characters w/ any, well, character. Sadly, nothing of interest here. The description on goodreads is as good as it gets with this thing. Hate it, but there you have it. Don't bother w/ this one.

Profile Image for Elizabeth.
704 reviews29.1k followers
September 24, 2018
A short, stylish book. Minimalist, but very pointed. A young girl is sent to boarding school after a tragic accident; She's vulnerable--only 15 years old--and the perfect target. What happens next is all too believable.

It's a story of power dynamics, both between genders and also among the same sex. Perhaps the most convincing thing about this book is how familiar the story feels. You could be listening to a friend, who is telling you their past in a whisper, or reading a headline. Walbert writes with a light touch, but her message is masterful.
Profile Image for Rebecca Read.
258 reviews9 followers
June 28, 2019
First, thank you to Scribner books for the copy of His Favorites as I won this in a Goodreads giveaway. My review is left voluntarily and all opinions are my own.

Incredibly haunting and poignant His Favorites is told in narrative by Jo. At just 15 years old Jo accidentally kills her best friend which ultimately shuns her family from the community and takes a toll on her parents marriage. Jo's mother decides to send her to Hawthorne, a boarding school where Jo will face the demon who is referred to as "Master".

"Master" is a lit professor who preys on the beautiful and weak, completely taking advantage of girls and knowing he can get away with it. It's so heartbreaking to read Jo's narrative and watch the events unfold, even when she does the right thing the cards are stacked against her.

Stories like this are hard to read but also important as this is a reality for so many woman at different points in their lives and it really shapes their future. The story is painful, raw and evokes all those emotions.

Highly recommend. His Favorites will stay with me for a while.
113 reviews
October 10, 2018
"I should have smashed those spectacles to glass so fine he would never not remember how I ruined his vision - decisive, quick, imperative - and wrecked that world of his own making, its heroes, its scholars, it founding members, generals, politicians, row after row after row after row of men and not real and not true for me, for me, not how I was, or what I saw and thought. Not anything. I could have; I should have; I did not.

But I was fifteen. I could no more have formed those words, those thoughts, than flown to the moon."

Thank you, Kate Walbert.
24 reviews
July 29, 2018
There is so much packed into this small book. The author conveyed such emotion and fully drawn out characters with few words. But, nothing was missing and the story resonated so much personally and with what’s going on in the world today.
Profile Image for Sonya.
805 reviews161 followers
December 6, 2018
This novel and I did not get along. It is overwritten and full of digressions. I wanted to like it more. I read another goodreads review that is similar to my reaction and some other person chastised her and said she was apparently expecting a romance and that this novel is timely and excellent and that the reviewer wasn't sympathetic to the #metoo moment. I didn't see anything in the review that said she was expecting a romance. She commented on the craft and structure, not the story. Not every #metoo story is going to be satisfying for every reader. There were things I admired about this novel, but the time jumps and brevity of the novel itself shortchanged the story. I didn't connect to the narrative even though I'm sympathetic to abuse victims; the two have nothing to do with each other.
Profile Image for Jessica Park Rhode.
352 reviews2 followers
July 13, 2019
Beautifully written. Read this bc Becca loved it.

I love the last image of Jo and Stephanie in the magnolia tree and I love the poetics woven into the pattern of the text. It’s both beautiful and ominous

But this book is like The Vegetarian or Lolita. I can appreciate it, but I can’t say that I ...like it?
Profile Image for Amy.
149 reviews4 followers
February 10, 2021
Intriguing premise about a girl who flees to boarding school after a scandalous hometown tragedy, only to catch the attention of an overly interested English teacher. This book is only 149 pages and yet it was quite a slog to get through it. I was thoroughly confused and lost for most of the book, and had to reread passages often. There were countless tangents and the timeline was hard to follow, which made for a really frustrating read. To be honest it would be hard for me to even summarize what happened in this book and I literally JUST finished it. I’m left feeling irritated and confused.

Thank you Simon and Schuster for the ARC
163 reviews
April 28, 2019
The description sounds much better than the book actually is. The idea is good, but there were so many rambling, run-on sentences I kept losing track of what was happening and needed to reread some sentences multiple times. The constant flashbacks and present time made the verb tenses very confusing!
Profile Image for Featherbooks.
508 reviews
December 18, 2018
I read mostly for writing, then plot, but this was stellar on both counts as a prank ends tragically upsetting Jo’s teen world, school, family and friends. The voice is spot on as is her remorse, grief and anger. A bleak portrait but a fine portrayal and one of the top books of my year’s titles.
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