Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Review: Early Decision by Lacy Crawford

I have two children in high school. That means that college is coming like a freight train. This is a terrifying prospect. Do they want to go to college? Where do they want to go? Do they have the grades and scores to get into their first choice? Their second choice? Any choice? And what about all the variables that are completely unknowable? What if the admissions office doesn't want or need more of what my children are offering in the year in which they will apply? Thick letter or thin?  Jubilation or broken heart?  I still vividly remember the agony and anticipation of my own college search. I don't know if I can survive going through it with my kids. And quite honestly, Lacy Crawford's novel, Early Decision, makes me just a touch more panicky. Crawford was an independent college admissions counselor so she knows whereof she speaks in this novel about several different college seniors and their quest to get into the college on which they and their parents have their hearts set.

Following five students on their college application journey, the novel is told from the perspective of Anne, a private admissions counselor who has seen it all and has the added cache of having attended an Ivy League school herself. She's in her late twenties and still not certain of what she wants to do with her own life but she knows how to shepherd students through the application and essay writing process to get them into the big name schools. She mainly works for overly involved, wealthy parents who often see the college their children go to as another status symbol. This college season Anne is working with Sadie, who doesn't have the grades for Duke but whose father is a trustee and whose mother is a nationally known life coach so she's a slam dunk for getting in; Hunter, whose mother has been driving and directing his life since he was small, never allowing him to just be a kid; Alexis, who can write her own ticket because she is the whole package but whose parents still want to micromanage things; William, a meticulous and buttoned up boy who secretly has far different dreams for his future than his parents do; and Cristina, a first generation immigrant who has the brains it takes to make it out of poverty if she can just catch a break and a scholarship with a college admissions office.

As Anne works with each of the students, helping them find their spark and passion, finessing their essays, deciding which college to shoot for, and oftentimes placating their parents even as she runs interference for the kids, she is facing upheavals in her own life. Her actor boyfriend has moved from Chicago to LA without her. She's not certain how many more seasons of college admissions she can take, privy to the unhappiness and problems of these accessory kids and their fierce parents. And she feels as if she has sold her soul to the devil, playing fast and loose with Cristina's future in an effort to raise her up despite knowing that this disadvantaged child deserves the chance as much if not more so than the other four whose parents are paying her well to make their dreams come true.

Told through Anne's observations, emails with her students, and their evolving personal essays, the novel is very immediate and visceral. The desperation of the parents comes through loud and clear, as does their inability to let their children find their own future, the one right for them. And just as in real life, the students themselves run the gamut from involved and caring to passive riders on their parents' trains. Each of the kids, smack in a stressful and seminal time in life, changes and grows in some way. If nothing else, they discover the things that bring them joy and how to match that up with what they envision for college. Some of the students find the strength of character to push to make the process theirs and to start living their own lives while others, despite the tantalizing glimpse of what could be, remain trapped in a vision not of their own making. Anne herself also faces her own decisions about her future during this year, trying to remember and tap into her own passion even as she teases out the students'. The novel's subtitle Based on a True Frenzy is completely accurate. And the major feeling I'm left with towards the college application process is a nerve-wracking despair, which tells me that Crawford has done a fantastic job of capturing all the conflicting feelings about wanting to launch my babies into the world and wanting to keep them little. She's really drawn realistic teenagers and I have to hope that she hasn't caught me as a parent in her portrayal of the parents in the book! Anyone facing the competitive world of college admissions soon should be lining up to read this book and those who aren't facing it yet should read it too, if only to decide whether their hearts can handle the stress of launching a child into the world.

For more information about Lacy Crawford and the book, check out her website or follow her on Twitter. Follow the rest of the blog tour or look at the amazon reviews for others' thoughts and opinions on the book.

And watch the book trailer, with commentary by Crawford herself, here:

Thanks to Trish from TLC Book Tours and the publisher for sending me a copy of this book to review.


  1. I'll read this to remind me of what it was like...

  2. I want to read this! I adore books on the admissions process (was my Plan B career). And the thick envelope/thin envelope thing doesn't always mean anything. Ignoring that most students these days are notified via email, my admission from the college I did end up attending came in a thin envelope with a thick one to follow!

  3. My son just started middle school this year but he's already convinced that he'll be attending Boston College one day ... I can't imagine how crazy our lives will be when he begins applying to college!

    Thanks for being on the tour. I'm featuring your review on TLC's Facebook page today.

  4. I really liked that Anne seemed to view her job as helping the students identify the things that brought them joy. I just finished college applications myself and while fortunately, my parents were completely awesome about the whole thing, I could still relate to the stressfulness of the process!


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