Tracy Dobmeier/Wendy Katzman – Girls with Bright Futures

Tracy Dobmeier/Wendy Katzman – Girls with Bright Futures

Elliott Bay Academy surely is the best school you can find in Seattle. Thus, the kids of the superrich can be found there, making friends who can be useful later in life. Yet, when college admission process starts, things become a bit tense since now, they are competing for places at the best universities. Alicia Stone is quite relaxed even though her daughter isn’t he brightest, but her money can make up for this. A huge donation to Stanford, a professor to write the essays – this should be enough to secure the place. Kelly, who herself attended Stanford, also wants to get her daughter in. Krissie’s results are brilliant but due to the limited financial means, Kelly must use information and especially gossip to bring her girl into a good starting position. The fight will be hard, especially when the prestigious university announces to only accept one pupil from EBA. Alicia and Kelly can do the maths: it will be difficult to pass Winnie, outstanding and excelling student of a single parent mother with no means or connections. Mothers can become tigers when they fight for their kids, but Winnie’s mum Maren never would have believed that they would be ready to kill her girl to get what they want.

If it wasn’t for the 2019 college admissions bribery scandal, I would classify Tracy Dobmeier and Wendy Katzman’s novel highly entertaining but far from reality. However, the fraud revealed showed that this isn’t a topic parents take easy but are willing to risk everything just to get a place at the supposedly best school. Living in a country where university admission works in a totally different way and where the idea of top universities you have to have graduated from to have the chance of a career is more or less non-existent, it is fascinating and repellent at the same time to look in the characters’ heads and to follow their trains of thought.

The whole story is centred around the three mother-daughter-teams, yet, that’s all they share. Alicia is in a top position of a tech company and her outstanding career makes her a well-known and admired person everywhere. Her tough workday has some secondary effects, though, she somehow has lost connection with her daughter and doesn’t care about her feelings or wishes but expects her to comply with her commands just as her employees and her husband. Kelly and Krissie’s relationship isn’t healthy either, the girl can hardly support the pressure that her parents put on her. Winnie and Maren are in a totally different situation. Winnie is gifted and has set her mind on going to Stanford, she’s got no help at all, but worked hard for her dream and is convinced that she deserves it. Maren loves her daughter but she also knows that the price will be high if Winnie is accepted: working for Alicia she will surely lose her job and not easily find anything else. She knows her boss well and she has no doubts about what Alicia is capable of when she is angered by someone. Nevertheless, Maren cannot believe that Alicia might be behind the hit-and-run that nearly kills Winnie.

It is these mixed feelings between fascination and utter disgust that keep you reading. More than once I thought this is totally unbelievable but then, well, the mothers are competing about the top position in the game of “who is willing to go to the maximum and throw all scruples and morals overboard”. Simultaneously, seeing who many characters suffer, what this behaviour does to the families and, first and foremost, the daughters, is totally sad.

Hilariously narrated with wonderfully crafted characters and also interesting side plots, an outstanding novel which, if it weren’t for its lengths, I would have read in one sitting.

Tamara Colchester – The Heart is a Burial Ground

Tamara Colchester – The Heart is a Burial Ground

What can a daughter learn from her mother? Four generations of women of one family suffer from their respective mother’s way of life, the choices they made and the future they planned for their kids. The first generation is embodied by Caresse Crosby, Harry Crosby’s wife, a young American who freed herself from Puritan Bostonian convictions and was looking for freedom and a life for the arts in Europe. Her daughter Diana grows up in Paris between all the famous people of the so called “Lost Generation” and never had to chance to just be a girl, too much was projected in her. Diana’s daughters Elena and Leonie found ways of opposing their mother by opting for very traditional models of love and life. Elena’s young children, one even unborn, are now the fourth generation who grows up with a heavy legacy.

The novel oscillates between times and places. We meet the Parisian It-crowd of the twenties when Caresse and Harry have their big time and Diana is just a girl. Then we jump to Caresse’s last days in Italy, decades after she has lost her husband and when her grand-daughters are already grown-up women. Another 20 years on, Diana’s life is coming to an end. Yet, no matter what point in time in general or in the characters’ life, the core question is always the same: what do you expect from life and how much love do you need?

Alternating the setting surely makes the novel lively, on the other hand, the development of the characters suffers from this non-linear or non-chronological arrangement. Even though you can make out especially Diana’s development, her daughters, for example, remained a bit a mystery for me. What I found intriguing, however, was the highly complex mother-daughter relationship which becomes very clear in every constellation: on the one hand, unconditional love and the hope that the daughter can break away from conventions and find love and happiness in life, on the other hand, the fact that they cannot live up to their own ideals and that wishes are not fulfilled makes them also reproachful and mean in their later life.

It is quite interesting to see that the author Tamara Colchester herself is a descendant of this family. This raises the question of how much fiction and how much reality you can find in the text. No matter the answer, it’s a novel about strong women and the choices we make in our lives.