With Admission, Julie Buxbaum brings us another achingly honest and thought-provoking book that is also extremely relevant to our time. Based on the shocking college admissions scandal that broke last year, Buxbaum does an amazing job of humanizing the people involved in such a scandal.
Chloe Berringer lives a charmed life. The daughter of a wealthy businessman and a B-list celebrity, she and her sister want for nothing. A private chef cooks their meals, their mother’s assistant constantly runs their errands, and they each have an army of private tutors. And despite being an average student, she’s just made it into the college of her dreams. Now, something about that doesn’t seem right, but she chooses to ignore that nagging in her gut and instead turn her thoughts to prom with her new boyfriend.
But when she opens the door one morning to find herself face-to-face with a wall of FBI pointing guns, she knows that something is very, very wrong. It turns out that she did not earn her admission to SCC—her parents bought her way in, and now her mom, dad, and possibly even Chloe herself are facing jail time.
The novel alternates between two timelines, Then and Now. Now starts with her mother’s arrest and follows through the trial and the aftermath. Then starts with the beginning of senior year and follows Chloe as she studies for the SAT and applies to different schools. Chloe isn’t very smart and doesn’t like to spend a lot of time on school, unlike her best friend, but she knows how important a good college is to her parents, so she tries her best to study hard and go along with the special advisor her parents hired to help her, even though she has a bad feeling about him.
Like with all of Julie Buxbaum’s lovely books, what stands out is how real the characters are. Some readers find it hard to sympathize with Chloe because of how privileged she is without even realizing it. I, however, related to Chloe. Growing up, I was nowhere near as rich as she is, but I had a bigger house than all my friends, and I was often judged or resented because of this. This upset me, because it felt like I was being shunned for something that wasn’t my fault. Chloe feels similarly, and over the course of the book, she learns that in the end, money can’t buy what’s really important.
Chloe isn’t dumb or lazy, she just prefers thinking about her crush and prom to slogging through Crime and Punishment. She feels like a real teenager to me, with real feelings, desires, and relationships. She also wasn’t purely likable or unlikable—she had moments where I empathized with and enjoyed her, and moments where I disliked her.
Her mom also came alive in this book. During the college admission scandal that this book is based on, it’s so easy to look at the parents with judgement. That judgement is deserved, and Buxbaum does not excuse her actions. Chloe’s mom knows she’s done the wrong thing and that she must now serve the time. But the novel also asks the question, “how far would you go to do the best for your kids?” and this question allows readers to understand her mom better.
This novel explores deep topics like guilt, privilege, and what it means to be complicit in a way that feels real and honest. I love losing myself in Buxbaum’s books, and this did not disappoint.