"Acceptance" gets in

April 25, 2007, midnight | By Amanda Pollak | 12 years, 9 months ago

Local author captures Montgomery County college applications

The dreaded college admissions process, the culmination of 12 years of toil, is portrayed in a surprisingly amusing light by Susan Coll, who is clearly writing from experience. In her latest novel, Acceptance , Coll's depiction of the college fervor that three families go through is a spot-on parody of the college applications process in Montgomery County.

The story takes place in the fictitious city of Verona, a Washington, D.C. suburb, made up of miles of McMansions inhabited by National Institutes of Health researchers. The area school system is notorious for can celling school at the first sign of snow. Sound familiar?

The novel follows three neighbors, Maya, AP Harry and Taylor, as they apply to the nation's top colleges, interweaving the students' and families' narratives with the ordeal of an admissions officer at Maya and Taylor's first-choice school.

The characters are generally well-developed and believable, though some definitely veer toward stereotypes. Harry, the over-achieving class president, sets out to take every Advanced Placement (AP) course available and memorizes the U.S. News and World Report's college rankings for undergrad, masters and PhD programs. Yet even with his superhuman intelligence, the awkwardness of his encounters with girls makes it clear that he's still only human.

One of the most interesting characters in Acceptance is the college admissions officer, who turns out to have a tragic past and a scandalous love life, though the writer sometimes goes into too much detail about it. Her story is laced with little "this-is-what-colleges-are-looking-for-or-see-too-much-of" moments that rarely seem forced.

Still, some passages veer toward the cheesy. Through plot developments normally found only in the worst children's movies, Taylor, Harry and Maya end up as close friends despite the fact that, throughout the novel, they barely talk to each other.

Any book that focuses on the college admissions process has great potential to be dull, but Coll makes it work. Her dry sense of humor pokes fun at every aspect of college applications and the ideals that define the college-bound.

Overall, Acceptance is a simple, engaging and witty dialog mixed with a key challenge, a degree of cheesiness, a little romance, some light banter - it'll make the readers forget that they're reading about something as completely nerve-wracking as the college admissions process.

Amanda Pollak. More »

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