Title: Early Decision
Author: Lacy Crawford
Source: from publisher for TLC book tour
Review Summary: Although I disliked not knowing what was fact and what was fiction, the believable, self-consistent characters made the story feel very real and gave it a strong emotional impact.
Author Lacy Crawford has been a private college application counselor for 15 years. Her experiences help write the protagonist Anne, as well as the kids Anne is helping through the college application process. Anne officially helps with essays and SAT prep, but her primary value to the parents is as someone they can freak out to and who can help communicate with their kids. Anne herself sees her role as helping their children achieve independence, using the essay writing to help them find their own voice. Given her highly unpleasant boyfriend, Anne could use some of that independence herself.
When I agreed to review this book, I was under the impression it was a non-fiction documentary kind of deal. Re-reading the stock description, I still don’t feel it’s clear that this is actually a fictional account. That in a nutshell is the one problem I had with this book – it’s not clear how fictional it is. There is a small caveat at the beginning to prevent schools complaining about how they’re portrayed, but I think a description of how much the students’ situations were drawn from real experiences was also necessary. That said…
The author’s writing style was fantastic. She included just enough mundane details in her descriptions to make the setting feel real without interfering with the fast-paced plot. She also had an almost Austenesque ability to convey that something is ridiculous or objectionable without directly saying so. At first I wasn’t sure about her choice to include the students’ essays, especially since the poorly written ones were painful to read. As essay drafts evolved with the characters though, I quickly became convinced of their usefulness for showing character development.
Although it’s impossible to know how much of this story was true, the characters were so well written that I would believe (almost) all of it. Each character acted self-consistently with what we know of their personality and motivations. All had their flaws, but not all were unlikeable. Our protagonist, for example, lacks self-confidence and sometimes seems manipulative. She is also always trying to do the right thing for the students she’s helping though and that was enough to make me like her anyway. Like out protagonist, the ending was likeable but not too likeable to be believable. It was neither so happy it felt like fiction nor so unhappy it felt unsatisfying. So this book wasn’t at all what I expected, but it delivered a relatable, moving story which I really enjoyed.
For some other perspectives, check out the other stops on the tour, Amazon, or Goodreads.
If you’re interested in a nonfiction account of college admissions, check out Creating a Class: College Admissions and the Education of Elites by Mitchell Stevens. I read it for a sociology class once.
Thanks Briana! I would love to read a non-fiction account too, so I’m adding Creating a Class to my TBR list 🙂
This book came in for me at the library a couple of days ago. I haven’t started yet. I’ve read a few other novels with similar titles/subjects so I wanted to see how this one compared.
Even though it wasn’t what i expected, I really enjoyed, so hopefully you’ll like it as much as I did 🙂
Christina @ Christina Reads YA
I’m a huge character driven person, so it’s nice to know that the characters are what ultimately saved the read for you 🙂 or at least improved and gave it impact.
Ohh… all the memories of college app writing days o.O. And SAT prep. “Anne herself sees her role as helping their children achieve independence, using the essay writing to help them find their own voice.” Sounds so accurate and so like what my version of Anne would have said about her position.
“That in a nutshell is the one problem I had with this book – it’s not clear how fictional it is.” <– It's probably what you said. Liability purposes. It's a shame there wasn't something at the end though for the curious reader – to tell you which were real experiences.
Her writing style sounds wonderful, though I'd imagine I'd cringe at having to read those essays. Probably would have skipped over those in the text… But I guess I'd have then missed out on the character development :O.
Glad that you ended up liking this despite the flaws!
As soon as I realized it was a fictionalized account, I thought how silly I’d been to imagine that any of the parents in the story would ever admit to having paid someone to get their kids into school. College was such a status symbol for the people using her services that none of her clients wanted to admit their kids needed help! I did end up liking it alot anyway though and despite the cringe-inducing initial essay, I really did like what they added to the students’ characters 🙂
The book sounds good but I think it’s kind of sad that college admissions have come to such.
It really is! I enjoyed the book but I was horrified by the suspicion that these stories were very grounded in real events.
Boo, I dislike misleading book descriptions! Sorry you didn’t get what you thought you were going to get. On the other hand –>”an almost Austenesque ability to convey that something is ridiculous or objectionable without directly saying so.” Wow, nice!!
Most of the time I’m unlikely to enjoy a book if it’s not what I’m expecting, so I dislike them too! I love Austen’s understated sense of humor and it was really a high point of this author’s writing style 🙂
Heather J. @ TLC
An interesting perspective on the college application process, and one I never really thought about – that’s for sure!
Thanks for being on the tour.
It was very interesting! I had no idea that people like the author even existed. Thanks for including me on the tour 🙂