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Sunday, December 30, 2007

Dangerous Admissions

Almost any reader would enjoy Jane O’Connor’s satire, Dangerous Admissions, but it resonates especially well for anyone connected with an elite high school, public or private. The setting is the fictional but completely plausible Chapel School, an upper-class K–12 independent school located on the Upper West Side of Manhattan at 349 West 103rd Street, with a four-acre campus extending to Riverside Drive. Google Street View spoils the illusion; I should never have checked.

Freed from its Episcopal roots, the Chapel School has a student body that is now self-consciously diverse, being 50% Jewish and 25% “minority students” on scholarship. The remaining 25% are mostly wealthy WASPs. Everyone wants to go to the very best colleges, and there is tremendous pressure to get into Harvard, Yale, or Stanford. The premise of the story is simple: the head of the Guidance Department is found murdered, and the mother of one student figures out whodunit in the classic tradition of the amateur detective. O’Connor writes in a humorous but never silly tone, making the book fun to read. Many of the characters are teenagers, so of course there’s some of the required sex and drugs, but not to the point of unbelievability. And even the slightly sensationalistic aspect of the material is relevant to the characters and the plot; no reader will think it’s gratuitous. It’s not Weston High School, but that’s only because the Manhattan setting is integral to the story. Otherwise, even though Dangerous Admissions takes place in a private school, it might as well be Weston.

The fact that the amateur detective is a copy editor makes the book even more delicious in my eyes. Fortunately Dangerous Admissions itself has been meticulously copy-edited, unusually so among current paperbacks; it would be too ironic if it had not been. Rannie Bookman, the appropriately named protagonist, keeps resisting the impulse to correct misplaced modifiers and the like. I appreciate that (the impulse, if not the resistance).

Needless to say, I highly recommend this novel. Go read it!

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