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.