Saturday, September 28, 2013


by Bronwen Hruska
Published by Pegasus
288 pages
Genre: literature
Thanks to edelweiss for the preview
4.5 / 5

I am a public school kid all the way. Public elementary, junior high, high school, college, and graduate school. In-state tuition! Holla!!!

I even teach at a public school. So private school is something of a a foreign entity to me. I hear the stories of elitism, parents who buy their kids out of trouble and into swanky private universities, spoiled brats who aren't as smart as they think they are. But how much of that is clouded by public school jealousy over private school perks?

This novel doesn't so much address the discrepancy as it does pry off the lid of what makes private schools successful. For the students in ultra private (and expensive, at over $50,000 a year) Bradley, success comes by way of medication.

Sean somewhat reluctantly sends his third grade son Toby to the school. Not that Sean foots the bill; that joy falls to his wealthy in-laws, who regularly extol the virtues of being a Bradley grad. Sean and Toby live alone in their rent controlled New York apartment, Sean's wife Ellie having decamped in a fit of depression. When Bradley's administrators suggest - which is a kind way of putting it - that Toby get evaluated for possible medication to solve a phantom ADD problem, Sean resists. But there is a hint of a threat: if Toby doesn't get on Ritalin, he might be kicked out of Bradley.

There are several stories going on here, and all of them are interesting and fun to read. There is the medication thread, complete with $350 a session psychiatrists, and there is the maternal abandonment by Ellie. We also have Nicole, Sean's sister, whose child is ensconced in a New York public school. Nicole is adamant that private schools produce snobs, but would she put her daughter in one if she had the chance? Nicole's observations and sentiments help balance out the private versus public debate, as do those of Toby's tutor. There also is a romance brewing between Sean and another character.

You certainly know where Bronwen Hruska comes down on public v. private. She leaves no ambiguity whatsoever regarding her opinion, but by the time you finish the book, you will agree with her. Despite the clarity of her sentiments, she does try to show you both sides of the issue. She addresses the bonuses of private school and the risks of public.

Sean is as likable a character as I've encountered in a while. He's hapless at times, but he's a good father and a good man. That he delves into self-loathing is understandable, just as we understand his frustration with Bradley and with his ex-wife. We want his romance to work out for him because he's a decent man trying to do his best for his son.

This is a fun, interesting book. Enjoy.

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