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All Souls Hardcover – April 14, 2008

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

The brutal, materialistic and dysfunctional underbelly of prep schools and the females who live in it create the foundation for Schutt's beautifully written but light-on-substance novel (following 2004's National Book Award finalist Florida). In the midst of 1997 Manhattan, all-girl prep school Siddons churns out ladies with a wide spectrum of academic skills, mental problems and severe insecurities, all of whom have been touched in some way by the novel's saintly lynchpin, Astra Dell, who leaves her studies behind to fight her rare cancer. Schutt introduces a large cast of characters who are dealing with Astra's absence and their own personal problems: Astra's best friend, anorexic Car; dirty girl Marlene; the inseparable and insensitive Alex and Suki; lesbian outcast Lisa; and their beloved instructors, the awkward Anna Mazur and Tim Weeks, the handsome colleague Anna's in love with. Unfortunately, Schutt shoehorns too many characters into a relatively thin book, and though there isn't a boring sentence in here, Schutt doesn't do enough with the familiar prep school setting to make the story resonate. (Apr.)
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From School Library Journal

Adult/High School—Set in a girls' school on Manhattan's Upper East Side, this book is a wonderfully written, touching story. Popular Astra Dell spends much of her senior year in the hospital with a rare form of tissue cancer. A young teacher visits Astra and considers her own brother who died young, while doubting her role as teacher and her potential relationship with a colleague who loves being unattached almost as much as he enjoys the students' crushes on him. Astra's friend Car is too busy with a multitude of issues to visit, but sends angst-filled letters that are sometimes stolen by Marlene, the unpopular girl who visits every day and considers Astra her new best friend. Astra's widowed father finds it hard to speak with his own daughter. Like E. R. Frank's Life Is Funny (Puffin, 2002), All Souls is written from the perspectives of several characters. Schutt, who herself teaches at a New York girls' school, mines those hallways for an extraordinarily captivating take on the teachers', parents', and teens' troubled worlds. At times she evokes Virginia Woolf's style in the immediacy of her characters' thoughts. All Souls may at first remind teens of formulaic novels such as Cecily von Ziegesar's "Gossip Girl" series (Little, Brown), but they will quickly discover a style and depth to the writing that is refreshing for this genre.—Jennifer Waters, Red Deer Public Library, Alberta, Canada
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt; 1 edition (April 14, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0151014493
  • ISBN-13: 978-0151014491
  • Product Dimensions: 8.4 x 6 x 0.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.4 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (14 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #212,970 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

8 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Luan Gaines HALL OF FAMEVINE VOICE on March 22, 2008
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Schutt is a master of the incidental, those small moments, some brittle, some brilliant, revealing the human psyche in all its flaws; the briefest glimpse of what we conceal from others, is here exposed. The author brings a fresh, incisive perspective to this novel, in this case the rarified environment of the Siddons School in Manhattan's Upper East Side. To be sure, these students are privileged, their world barely marred by the harsh reality that plagues the less well off. Their sensibilities honed on the classics, diverse languages and the experiences of world travel, these senior girls grapple with which colleges to attend and the angst of bidding farewell to the sheltered years of their expensive education. Through the mysterious illness (an obscure cancer?) that has struck one of the most popular students, Astra Dell, a particular poignancy imbues the novel. The elegant Astra, with her sheaf of glowing red hair, is a symbol of Siddons perfection, struck down by the cruel blow of an indifferent fate.

Astra's slow fall into devastating illness is solemnly monitored by Mr. Dell, his wife lost to a freak accident before Astra's illness; he longs for his wife's certitude and comfort in this grueling time, as he watches his daughter's slender form evaporate under the attack of the disease that can only be fought by extreme measures. Her spare hospital room a testament to the magnitude of the battle, a table is filled with cards bearing well wishes from classmates, a gentle chorus of "get well soon" and "we miss you" crushed by the violence of harsh treatments, as painful and ominous as Astra's disease. It is the haunting voices of these others, classmates, teachers, that create the narrative beyond Astra's hospital bed.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Becky Sharp on September 5, 2008
Format: Hardcover
I just read about All Souls in the NYTBR this past weekend and read it this week -- it was really riveting, great writing, an intricate web of a story. The self interestedness was made really compelling. Good book.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Amazon Customer on May 25, 2010
Format: Paperback
I began reading this book with high hopes - Christine Schutt is an award winning novelist, and All Souls was a 2009 Pulitzer finalist for fiction. Unfortunately, it was a huge let down. The "bones" of the story are good, but it is extremely disjointed and could have been better with either twice the pages or half the characters involved. The excessive cast of characters come across as one-dimensional, clichéd, and poorly developed.

There are some beautiful passages in All Souls, but most of the writing is clumsy and difficult to trudge through. Schutt's style takes some getting used to and the story just wasn't long enough to get me there. I am glad that I checked this one out at the library and did not purchase it.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By S. Liu on August 17, 2009
Format: Paperback
Astra Dell, c'etait moi; formerly a teen cancer patient attending an all-girls prep school, I had a natural interest in reading this novel. Schutt captures the emotional complexities of the girl with a life-threatening illness, well aware of Astra's automatic candidacy for sainthood, yet refreshingly portrays her as a three-dimensional, unique character. Cancer serves as a focal point yet never becomes a black hole to engulf the entire narrative. The reader also develops an understanding of the inner and outer conflicts that trouble a wide variety of Astra's classmates: the "popular" crowd, the wealthy whose money guarantees them college admission, the scholarship girl, the eating disordered, the emotionally neglected, the all-too-impossibly perfect. A teacher herself, Schutt describes the lives of the Siddons School faculty, their feelings for and frustrations with their students and each other. Parents both present and absent complete the picture of adolescent life, girls faced with both the ultimate question of mortality and questions of undetermined weight such as what to put on one's yearbook page, what to write for that boring class, what to say and how to act around one's peers.

Some of the characterizations of parents seemed a bit stereotypical (the wealthy, anorexic, fashion-obsessed, neglectful mother), and some of the chapter titles a bit opaque (what does this episode have to do with "fools"?), but the novel as a whole remains true to the experience it seeks to represent.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By L. D. Hirschklau on February 16, 2009
Format: Hardcover
I loved this book. I didn't want to keep reading it because I didn't want to finish it. (I can't figure that one out, either). I dog-eared the bottom of about 20 pages to easily find insightful passages, and/or simply lovely prose. Astra Dell serves as the (possibly) "dying" star around which the other characters revolve: privileged private high school Seniors - their parents and their faculty. Each chapter is a series of vignettes. You will be reminded of your Senior year - and various people you knew in school who made your life miserable or tolerable or wonderful. There are parents whose narcissism is overwhelming and others who simply love. But more central to the story is how a few of the students and faculty respond to Astra's condition (a very rare form of cancer) and how they and she evolve as the year progresses. I highly recommend this and hope you enjoy it.
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