Patti Yoon is in her senior year of high school and working through the process of trying to get into HARVARDYALEPRINCETON (and a host of other top rated colleges). Her parents have extremely high expectations and make it very clear that not meeting them will not only disappoint them, but also let down the entire Korean church they belong to. Talk about pressure! Patti’s chief pleasure is in playing her violin, but even that has strings attached since she’s expected to maintain her position as concertmaster of the All-State Youth Orchestra and practice hours every day. And then there’s that cute boy she met at the All-State auditions…
This book did a great job of describing the pressure kids often face when dealing with the college application process in a very realistic way. Not only did Patti feel the pressure and get frustrated by it, but she also bought into it even when she sometimes realized that it was ridiculous. The pressures came from everywhere, too: parents, friends, colleges themselves, even Patti herself. I found it kind of interesting that with all the focus on academic success, school itself was so completely absent from this story.
One of the aspects of the book that I found most interesting was that perhaps the thread tying it all together was the college application process itself. Everything from writing applications to taking SATs to college interviews and beyond was covered. I was impressed by the thoroughness of this and how clearly the stupidity of it all was shown, without Patti ever seeming to realize that stupidity (as teenagers deep in that pressure-filled process rarely do). I wondered how this aspect of the book would read to a teenager going through that process. I haven’t been there for a long time, so my perspective has shifted a bit. I thought it was a brilliant part of the story and my guess is it would work just as well on a teenager, but on a different level.
The friendship that Patti built with Ben over the course of the book was sweet and delightfully complex. The believability of the relationship was such that it actually made me sad to read that they lost touch after high school (although that was, again, quite believable). I liked that Ben brought something of a voice of normalcy to Patti’s life, even if he wasn’t necessarily any more rational or normal than any other part of her world. It was like he was the voice of the non-overpressured, overstressed teenager and she got tastes of that kind of life through him, even if she never really did learn that much about him. It created an interesting element to the otherwise very academic, college-focused story.
I really enjoyed this book. I thought that the writing could have been stronger, but it definitely stood on it’s own two feet and was absolutely a pleasure to read. I would certainly recommend this book, but for me it was more interesting as something to think about than as a book to read for pure pleasure. There was meat here and while it was fun to read, I don’t think it is a book for just entertainment but, rather, one that says a lot about what our society thinks is important and does to it’s teenagers.