Chicster Book Review: “Acceptance” Comes at a Price

Susan Coll's strikingly truthful novel on the harrowing college application process is enough to send a chill down any high school junior's spine. Her witty prose and deep, yet astonishingly real characters make Acceptance a subtle comedy that gets to the heart of what it means to be accepted.

 The characters themselves are hilarious–who didn't know an AP Harry in high school? Or Maya, the beautiful Indian-American swimmer whose dream is to attend a liberal arts college, but her father wants her to take a sports scholarship at USC. And Taylor, whose obsession with stealing her neighbor's mail seems to make its way into her admissions essay.

It's achingly painful to see inside the psyche of the panicked, over-worked juniors and seniors in high school who fight tooth and nail against the thousands of others trying to make their grades and test scores stand out. And standing out is hard to do in the eyes of the admissions officer of Yates College, where most of the main characters in the novel apply. Olivia reads applications by the hundreds and receives various desperate last attempts from students.

I would recommend this book to anyone who is currently in the midst of the college application process, if for nothing more than a reality check. Even those who are long past the days of college applications, or even just past it, will enjoy Coll’s portrayal of the current generation of college-bound teens (and their frantic parents). The strength of Coll’s characters brings the otherwise seemingly bland topic of college applications to life. The way the novel is set up also facilitates the story’s development, the chapters each representing a month out of the yearlong admissions process.

It’s surprising how quickly the novel reads, even for its 303 pages. The ending is surprisingly sweet; the only downside being that it strays a little from the heart of the characters that have been set up for most of the book.

But even with the crisp prose, it's the commentary that Coll makes on society is what is most fascinating. She captures the inner struggle of a generation of youths who are forced to stifle any interests that aren't going to help them get into Harvard. Coll paints the terrifyingly true backdrop of the suburban town where being the absolute best is the norm-and still not quite good enough.

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