Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Book Review: "Small Admissions" by Amy Poeppel

Sometimes after I've read a few fairly heavy or angsty books, I need to metaphorically cleanse my literary palate by reading something a little lighter. It doesn't necessarily have to be a humor book or utter fluff, but every now and then I like to seek out books that are lighter in tone, more straight-forward, something I can enjoy without having to tax my brain or my psyche too hard.

After the last few books I've read, I turned to Amy Poeppel's Small Admissions as my literary intermezzo of sorts. It was just what I was hoping for—an engaging story with characters I could root for (as well as some I could root against). It even made me laugh more than a few times, which was a pleasant surprise.

The daughter of two college professors, Kate Pearson has always been almost myopically focused on academics, much to the frustration of her friends and her older sister Angela. But when her post-graduate work in a prestigious anthropology program with a noted professor turns disastrous, she makes a characteristically un-Kate decision and plans to move to Paris with her trés handsome boyfriend Richard. Only she doesn't quite get out of the Paris airport, and then she's back in the U.S., nearly catatonic in her depression, never getting out of her pajamas, drinking far too much, and refusing to do anything to fix her situation.

After nearly a year of moping and mourning, Angela feels compelled to do something to save Kate from herself. Angela's chance meeting with the overworked director of admissions for a tony prep school in New York lands Kate an interview. And despite one of the most disastrous job interviews on record, where she dresses inappropriately and says even less appropriate things, Kate is shockingly hired as the assistant director of admissions for the famed Hudson Day School.

"...she didn't like children particularly. Didn't know any other than her niece, didn't want to. Didn't know anything about schools in New York City, either, obviously. Or schools anywhere. Or the admissions process. Or administrative anything. She would be expected to answer people's questions, and she wouldn't have the answers because—to get right down to it—she didn't know anything."

After her initial fear that her boss will discover he accidentally hired the wrong girl, or that she'll screw everything up, abates, Kate starts to settle into her job. Before long she's interviewing prospective students—smart, driven children programmed by their parents; clueless children wondering why they're even there other than because their parents are making them; and the rare child who actually deserves to go to Hudson. Kate is far from a traditional interviewer, and as crazy as her interviews with the kids are, some of the parents are even crazier! (While a subplot featuring two feuding parents seems tired, there's a terrifically funny payoff.)

Meanwhile, as Kate is getting fully immersed in the whole admissions process, Angela constantly worries that Kate will suddenly backslide and tries to take control of her life prematurely, and Kate's two best friends from college are dealing with their own secrets, while one of them, Chloe, tries to find Kate another boyfriend, mostly out of guilt, since Richard is her cousin. It's all fodder for more chaos than any one person can handle, but Kate surprises them all by taking it in stride. Mostly.

Was this book fairly predictable? Absolutely, but that didn't lessen its appeal for me. I would have enjoyed the book more without the tired (and annoying) subplot about Kate's jealous friend, because Kate and her work in admissions made for a pretty enjoyable book on its own. I worried the book would lose its way diving into her romantic life, but fortunately Poeppel didn't hamper the book with turning the plot into total chick-lit. I thought Poeppel has a great ear for dialogue and a knack for crazily outlandish conversations that you can absolutely see someone getting nervous and saying.

Small Admissions was fun, lighthearted, and it didn't take itself too seriously. It was exactly the type of book I was looking for, and if you want something to read that you'll enjoy without getting agitated or depressed, or having to really decipher the plot, definitely pick this up.

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