Admissions by Nancy Lieberman
355 pp., hardcover
Warner Books, 2004
by Marissa Guijarro
Admissions is the wise-cracking story of the competitive world of private school admissions in New York City. Helen Drager, art curator and advisor, loses her sense of reality when it is time for her daughter, Zoe, to apply to private high schools. In the meantime, Helen’s friend, Sara, director of admissions at The School, negotiates the kindergarten admissions process for the first time in her career under the negligent and hostile supervision of a dallying supervisor, Pamela Rothschild, headmaster of the School. Helen’s focus becomes intolerable to both her virtuous daughter and faithful husband, Michael, a cooking show producer, and her most lucid moments surface while flirting with a prospective lover. Sara clings to her Midwestern sensibilities in a maelstrom of chaos and corruption at The School. Michael, in an effort to please Helen, mixes business with parenting while trying to secure a place for Zoe at the Fancy Pants School. The character we love to hate, Pamela, becomes further ensnared in her own duplicity throughout the story. In the meantime, there is plenty of comic relief, from the families at the The School, Pamela and her not-so-clandestine petite amie (the feeble-minded Colette), and endless stream of would-be kindergarten parents present for interviews.
Despite the humor, Admissions touches upon serious subjects such as child development, elitism, eating disorders, sexuality, greed, and the infamous old-boy network. The melange makes for a fun read about a maddening NYC phenomenon. Zoe maintains stability of character despite her mother’s verbal and figurative gymnastics during the admissions process. If only all teenagers were as grounded as Zoe! Among those applying for kindergarten, only a few of the parents exhibit a sense of normalcy, and the most enchanting children are those who demonstrate social skills, curiosity, and age-appropriate behavior. Amid wicked ironies and delicious decadence resplendent and delivered at a New York pace, sincerity and self-discovery in pristine simplicity emerge as major themes. Prepare for a few laughs and moments of reflection during this entertaining read.