This debut novel might be described as “The Devil Wears Prada” meets “Primates of Park Avenue.”
A behind-the-scenes glimpse into the daunting admissions process at an elite Manhattan private school, “Small Admissions” offers a tantalizing if shallow premise. Kate Pearson, 25, lands a job at the fictional Hudson Day School after a comically terrible interview. She dislikes children, curses with abandon and is inconsolable after a breakup with her French boyfriend. Alongside subplots involving Kate’s controlling sister, Angela, and two college friends, the story follows Kate’s work tribulations and renewed attempts at dating.
Although Poeppel once worked in private school admissions, she delivers few startling insights. The rich parents are as entitled and demanding as you might expect. They try to bribe their way into a top-choice school or threaten litigation; they are a bit crazy and trapped in unhappy marriages; they panic over their children’stest scores and essays.
“Getting into private school in Manhattan is like getting into Harvard,” one desperate woman says, reminding her husband, “We have to appear stable.”
The cliches extend to a promising Latina applicant, the violin-playing and “unusually empathetic” Claudia Gutierrez, whose mother works two jobs and whose father died of cancer.
Nuance is largely absent as the novel goes for frothy fun and hits predictably heartwarming notes. Take it for what it is; you’ll be entertained.
By Amy Poeppel
Aria Books, 358 pages