Small Admissions by Amy Poeppel is a study of the high-school admissions process with perspectives by four women who are connected by blood, friendship, and ex-boyfriends. The story is enduring for those who understand about entitlement, but beyond that there is the personal story of Kate, the main character.
The author created the story about eight years ago, “After we moved to New York City we started the interview process to see which school was best for our children. Unfortunately, my husband and I were really bad at it. After thinking about it, I started writing comedic parent interviewing scenes. Using humor for dialogue I turned those into a play for the Actor’s Studio, and then into a novel. My experiences led me to take prospective parents on tours at the school we sent my son to. One thing led to another and I ended up applying for a job in the admission’s office. Then all of a sudden I was on the other side of the desk, as I was seeing it from the school’s perspective instead of the parents.”
The plot begins with Kate being dumped by her fiancé. Her life is in disarray where she prefers to stay hidden in her apartment until her sister gets her a job interview. Although Kate gives completely inappropriate and not politically correct answers she somehow gets the job. This becomes a springboard for Kate getting back on her feet as she uses the position to regain her confidence. She takes the job as an assistant admissions officer at the prestigious private New York Hudson Day School.
Readers are taken on a hilarious ride as they explore the absurd competitive world between the prospective students and parents. Kate begins to understand that she was wallowing in self-pity and decides to change her life around. She starts to piece her life back together and figure out exactly what she wants. Between Kate’s relationships and the different personalities of the children/parents, as well as the school, it becomes obvious this book is an examination of human nature.
Poeppel hopes readers will get out of the book, “A fun peek at this crazy private school world. I tried to show humor in the situation where people get into such frenzy over it. Readers should question, what are the criteria in how we evaluate people financially, socially, and educationally? What are our priorities? Who do we want to impress and with what matrix?”
The exploration of the different personalities of each character enhances the plot. Kate is intelligent, unorthodox, and caring. She is contrasted with her ex-fiancé who is narcissistic and does not care if he hurts those around him. Her sister Angela is like many older siblings who always has their younger ones best interests at heart; even though at times they can be seen as overbearing. The rest of the characters, college friends of Kate, have their own heartbreaks and hidden secrets.
Poeppel feels “Kate is imperfect and makes mistakes, but overcomes adversity. She must handle acceptance and rejection in her professional and personal life. She took three steps forward and one step backward. Because of her job she gained confidence and accomplishment. The springboard of her job forced her to talk and listen to people.”
Small Admissions is not just about the process of applying to a private school it is also about how each character looked within to find their faults and strengths. The core of the story is about friendship and family, disappointments and joy.