Read a juicy drama about family secrets and the price of success
The Gifted School — Bruce Holsinger
What to Read This Week
The Gifted School by Bruce Holsinger
Content warnings, which contain spoilers, listed in the footnote of this newsletter.1
What It’s About
A new school is coming to town, and every parent wants to make sure their kid gets in, no matter the cost. It’s a gifted school, only for the best of the best, the smartest students. The novel is set around four main families, all of whom have different reasons to believe their children are better than the others, but they’d never tell their friends that, of course.
There’s the perfect co-parenting duo with twin boys, seamlessly transitioning from soccer practice to dinner together; the widow with a genius son and a delinquent daughter; the famous wealthy family who host all the holidays and fundraising parties; the bickering couple with a sweet and naive daughter they just want to protect.
But all these facades are about to blow away as secrets are revealed during the admission process to the gifted school, which makes them realize they don’t know one another after all.
Why You Should Read It
This drama was everything I needed while waiting for the new season of Normal Gossip to begin. Full of whispering parents and self-righteous kids, every character had a reason to both root for and root for the downfall of them. Seriously, if you love a messy, messy family drama, this book is for you.
It has Big Little Lies vibes — minus the murder — but I thought the character development and backstory were much stronger and more compelling. You’ll follow one adult for a few chapters, get an insight from one of the children, and then get some narration from a totally different family outside the main circle.
It’s also an excellent portrayal of how entrenched our own biases can be, showcasing families in a (fictional) “progressive” and “inclusive” town, but the minute the school shows up, white parents are the first to complain that they want their kids to be let in, not the kids from the next town over, which has a more diverse makeup and a higher poverty percentage.
Elizabeth from What to Read If pointed out a super interesting note about the hardcover and paperback covers that I’d love to discuss here. The above picture is the original hardcover, and the orange cover featured at the beginning is the newer trade paperback cover.
The hardcover received tons of accolades and blurbs about its outstanding writing, which are absolutely warranted. But its cover also has a very different vibe than its redesign, which has more of the trendy illustrated chick-lit vibe.
Chick-lit: I hate this term, as we don’t have “dude-lit,” and calling something “chick-lit” is often used as a way to make a book sound less serious than its counterparts geared toward male readers. The hardcover cover could be described as a “dude-lit” cover: it is clearly written by a male and indicates that it is to be taken seriously, with real neighborhoods depicted and the title taking up most of the cover, as many “literary” books do. The trade paperback, however, depicts two illustrated females on their phones, conveying a lighter, more gossip-filled story that could come across as “lighter” and “drama” rather than a “literary masterpiece.”
Again, I think both are warranted for this book, because it was an incredible ride, and does have both juicy drama and pointed discussions about class and race. So why are the vibes of the cover so different? Why is chick-lit not taken as seriously as dude-lit? I would never have picked up the hardcover based on the cover, because I know dude-lit is not my thing. I love the paperback and feel it fits better with the story, but why don’t fun illustrated covers get taken as seriously for literary potential?
Can’t get enough, or looking for a different recommendation? Browse the archives, or check out some popular past recommendations:
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Content warnings include death of a spouse/parent (pre-story, off-page, many discussions of single parenthood and missing parent after death), marital infidelity, older adult with inappropriate actions toward teen girl, bullying, and thoughts of self-harm from child (no self-harm on page, but vivid description of thought).