From Publishers Weekly
In this engrossing anthropological study of the cult of overachieving that is prevalent in many middle- and upper-class schools, Robbins (Pledged: The Secret Life of Sororities) follows the lives of students from a Bethesda, Md., high school as they navigate the SAT and college application process. These students are obsessed with success, contending with illness, physical deterioration (senior Julie is losing hair over the pressure to get into Stanford), cheating (students sell a physics project to one another), obsessed parents ( Frank's mother manages his time to the point of abuse) and emotional breakdowns. What matters to them is that all-important acceptance to the right name-brand school. "When teenagers inevitably look at themselves through the prism of our overachiever culture," Robbins writes, "they often come to the conclusion that no matter how much they achieve, it will never be enough." The portraits of the teens are compelling and make for an easy read. Robbins provides a series of critiques of the system, including college rankings, parental pressure, the meaninglessness of standardized testing and the push for A.P. classes. She ends with a call to action, giving suggestions on how to alleviate teens' stress and panic at how far behind they feel. (Aug.)
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Robbins, author of the revealing Pledged: The Secret Life of Sororities (2004), investigates yet another troubling aspect of today's youth, the culture of high-school high achievers, a group to which she once belonged. To see if things had changed during the 10 years since she left high school, Robbins returned to her alma mater, one of the most competitive high schools in the country, to observe several students (juniors and seniors and one recent graduate, who was admitted to Harvard) as they balanced intense academic pressure, parental expectations, personal interests, social life, and their own drive to succeed. What she discovered is no surprise: the welfare of the individual has taken a backseat to academic success. Nor is her call for "massive change of both attitudes and educational policies" new. That said, it's difficult to ignore her perspectives on such issues as the influence of the SAT or the day-to-day struggles of the kids, who can't rest until they "outwit, outplay, and outlast" the competition. An addendum directed to parents, schools officials, counselors, and students sets benchmarks for activists who want things to change. Stephanie Zvirin
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