four-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
41-July-Aug-2009
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0

A-AdmissionJean Hanff Korelitz is the author of three acclaimed novels (A Jury of Her Peers, The Sabbathday River, and The White Rose), a children’s book (Interference Powder), and a book of poems (The Properties of Breath).

The Story: In her latest novel, Korelitz explores the highly competitive world of Ivy League college admissions. Portia Nathan, a 38-year-old admissions officer for Princeton, lives a quiet life with a fulfilling job and a steady relationship. Sympathetic to a fault, Portia struggles with weeding out the vast majority of applicants (more than 90 percent are rejected), knowing her decision will devastate families. Her sense of fairness is even more challenged when she meets Jeremiah, a brilliant young man who does not fit the Ivy League mold. Portia’s comfortable life threatens to further unravel when a long-buried secret comes to light, forcing her to confront a painful decision she made in her youth.
Grand Central Publishing. 464 Pages. $24.99. ISBN: 0446540706

Chicago Tribune 4 of 5 Stars
"An engaging read, not yet another stereotypical look at crazed applicants. … It allows students (and parents) to feel that the people making decisions are fallible humans, and it challenges readers to grasp the importance of what we admit to ourselves." Elizabeth Taylor

Entertainment Weekly 4 of 5 Stars
"[Portia’s] struggle to confront her willfully blocked past, deal with the collapse of a long-term relationship, and become a whole person, not merely a midwife of teenage ambition, is what ultimately makes Admission so compelling. … Admission is that rare thing in a novel: both juicy and literary, a genuinely smart read with a human, beating heart." Leah Greenblatt

Los Angeles Times 4 of 5 Stars
"An old-fashioned novelist in the best sense, Korelitz takes a subject of consuming contemporary interest and uses it to frame a portrait of a wonderfully complex character confronting the choices she’s made and the damage she’s done, mostly to herself. … Well-written, well-plotted and extremely satisfying, Admission marks another step forward for a writer whose accomplishments grow more impressive with each book." Wendy Smith

Christian Science Monitor 3.5 of 5 Stars
"The realism is impressive enough to unsettle even the parent of a first-grader, but Portia has a tendency to ruminate about the admissions process that slows down the plot in the beginning. … Korelitz has created a complicated heroine who is nonetheless easy to love, and readers who stick with Admission will be pulling for Portia just as powerfully as she roots for the applicants she falls in love with every year." Yvonne Zipp

USA Today 3.5 of 5 Stars
"At heart it’s a love story—love lost, lost again, then found. But it’s best at describing the shifting and subjective job of deciding who gets into a college like Princeton where the vast majority of kids, all who’ve been told they are so great, will be rejected." Bob Minzesheimer

Critical Summary

Critics hailed Korelitz’s ability to put a human face on what many consider to be a merciless process. Compassionate, vulnerable, and surprisingly likable, protagonist Portia Nathan struck a chord with critics, who described her as "wonderfully complex" (Los Angeles Times) and "utterly real" (Entertainment Weekly). Korelitz, a Dartmouth graduate and former Princeton admissions reader, offers a fascinating, behind-the-scenes look at the college admission process. Critics were split, however, on whether parents with teens should seek out this title. On the one hand, Admission is a helpful guide for parents and students interested in learning about admission etiquette. On the other, the novel may strike terror in the hearts of parents with Ivy League hopes and bright, but unexceptional, children.