10 second pitch: What if Liane Moriarty wrote the Varsity Blues scandal, but for middle school?
I swallowed this book whole, staying up until an inadvisable time in the evening (on a school night!) to read it in one gulp. It was so good, right up until it wasn’t.
Rose, Samantha, Azra, and Lauren have been friends since they met in an infant swim class when their babies were babies. They’re by turns supportive and competitive, little power struggles creating fault lines in their friendships. When the town announces the opening of a brand new gifted magnet school, just as their babies are entering middle school, the slights and tensions build to the inevitable quake.
The story is told over the shoulder of multiple characters. (Not in first person, but limited third person.) Someone from every family is represented, and Holsinger limits himself to one of the friends as a perspective character.
Rose: a dedicated medical researcher who used academics to pull herself out of the lower middle class and wants the same fire for her daughter, Emma Q.
Emma Z: Emma Q’s best friend, the daughter of Samantha, the group’s queen bee.
Beck: Azra’s ex-husband, now married to their former au pair, a trust fund bro who never grew up, but remains devoted to his older twin sons (and still in love with his ex-wife).
Xander: Lauren’s youngest, a brilliant boy better with math and science than people.
Tessa: Lauren’s oldest, a former prodigy, recovering from taking her rebellious teenage phase too far.
Ch’ayna: the immigrant housekeeper for Rose and Samantha nervous that her grandson’s gifts will take him far from the life she knows.
None of the characters is entirely likeable. They all rubbed me the wrong way on at least one occasion. I disliked Rose throughout the entire story–she’s completely insufferable and, honestly, the one I identified with the most. Rose is desperate to save her daughter from academic mediocrity, for reasons that have nothing to do with her daughter. She’s in competition with everyone. With her husband, who she despises for his lack of ambition. With Samantha, the society wife with the perfect husband and child. She ties herself in knots and makes one poor choice after another.
All the children are *children*, bright and funny and largely annoying in the way that only children can be. I ached for them as much as I did for their parents.
Holsinger held me in the palm of his hand for most of the story. Right up until he takes a melodramatic turn not swallowed more easily for being clearly telegraphed. That little kicker at the end felt deeply unnecessary, though perhaps it highlights just how much of a soap opera the entire story might be.