Doubleday (August 18, 2015), Hardcover (ISBN 0385540043 / 9780385540049)
Fiction, 320 pages
A version of this review was previously published in Shelf Awareness for Readers (September 4, 2015). Shelf Awareness provided me with a publisher-furnished galley to facilitate the review, and compensated me for the review they received and posted. This post contains affiliate links to IndieBound.
The Admissions is Meg Mitchell Moore’s account of a very eventful autumn for the Hawthornes of Marin County, California. After years of academic and extracurricular preparation, eldest daughter Angela is submitting her early-admission application to Harvard, fourth-grader Cecily is preparing to compete in the world championships with her Irish dance troupe, and eight-year-old Maya is entering second grade still unable to read on her own. Nora, their mother, on the verge of making the biggest commission of her real-estate career, is struggling to find time to get a tutor for Maya, keep tabs on Angela’s crushing senior-year obligations, and make sure all her kids are always where they need to be when they need to be there.
Nora has told no one why she blames herself for Maya’s trouble with reading. While she struggles to sell the overpriced house she’s had listed for months, she learns–and tells no one–that she’s about to be blamed, and likely sued, for a problem with a home she sold several years earlier. Under intense academic pressure and just weeks away from realizing her lifelong dream of Harvard, Angela tells no one that she’s been turning to pills–and considering plagiarism–to hold onto her spot at the top of her class. And while the whole family knows that Angela has considered no college other than Harvard, only her father, Gabe, really knows why Harvard matters so much.
The Admissions quickly establishes that the Hawthornes are a family on the verge of cracking under pressure from upper-middle-class competition, community expectations, and their own occasionally desperate decisions. There’s plenty of drama–and a striking amount of comedy–in the convergence of events that brings everything down. But while Moore lets her characters unravel, she doesn’t leave them in pieces, and in the end, it appears that the Hawthornes may actually have learned from, and been changed by, experience.
The Hawthorne family has it all. Great jobs, a beautiful house in one of the most affluent areas of northern California, and three charming kids with perfectly straight teeth. And then comes their eldest daughter’s senior year of high school . . .
Firstborn Angela Hawthorne is a straight-A student and star athlete, with extracurricular activities coming out of her ears and a college application that’s not going to write itself. She’s set her sights on Harvard, her father’s alma mater, and like a dog with a chew toy, Angela won’t let up until she’s basking in crimson-colored glory. Except her class rank as valedictorian is under attack, she’s suddenly losing her edge at cross-country, and she can’t help but daydream about the cute baseball player in English class. Of course Angela knows the time put into her schoolgirl crush would be better spent coming up with a subject for her term paper—which, along with her college essay and community service hours has a rapidly approaching deadline.
Angela’s mother, Nora, is similarly stretched to the limit, juggling parent-teacher meetings, carpool, and a real-estate career where she caters to the mega rich and super-picky buyers and sellers of the Bay Area. The youngest daughter, Maya, still can’t read at the age of eight; the middle-child, Cecily, is no longer the happy-go-lucky kid she once was; and the dad, Gabe, seems oblivious to the mounting pressures at home because a devastating secret of his own might be exposed. A few ill-advised moves put the Hawthorne family on a heedless collision course that’s equal parts achingly real and delightfully screwball.
“Nora was trying not to worry. But she’d been a mother for nearly eighteen years now. She was going to worry.
“It was a beautiful early-winter day in the Bay Area, which meant that it was sixty-five degrees and sunny, or would be until the fog rolled in later in the afternoon. No need for so much as a mitten. Christmas was nine days away.
“She was reaching for her cell when the home phone rang.
“Nobody ever called the home number. She’d threatened to have it disconnected so many times that it was now a standing joke in the Hawthorne family. Because she never had time to do anything she threatened to do, until now.
“Yes. Her hand shaking as she cradled the receiver. A man’s voice, unfamiliar.
“Nora hadn’t thought her heart could climb any farther up her throat than it had in recent weeks. But it could, it turned out, it could.”