Book of the Day

The Gifted School
By Bruce Holsinger
Riverhead Publishing
ISBN 978-0525534969
Publication Date: July 2019
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The Gifted School

Review by Emma Boyd

The Gifted school explores the lives of 5 families competing for coveted spots in a new public magnet school for academically gifted children in the idillic city of Crystal, Colorado.  Told from multiply viewpoints, it is a study of what lengths some parents will go to get their progeny into an elite program regardless of their actual abilities and how, “wanting the best” for your child can often lead parents to do the worst things. 

Holsinger does a commendable job at revealing character through action.  While as a reader we are given insight into what the characters are thinking and feeling, it is what they do that paints the truest picture of their nature.  The characters are designed well.  They are both flawed and appealing.  They feel crafted to be people that one would know and maybe even like. That readers might see themselves in these characters and think “they are like me – but at the same time, not me.  Of course, not me.” Until they realize maybe they are “exactly like me.”    Which means that Holsinger knows his target audience well.  Being a real-life professor at a top-tier university, Holsinger must have first-hand experience with students whose best interests were not served by being accepted into that program as well as the parents that did whatever they could to put them in that position.  What parent doesn’t want to believe that their child is “Gifted and Talented”?

The multiple view points that Holsinger employs in this novel appealed to me because they are so varied.  Rose is a successful professional who believes her success to be due solely to her own efforts.  She is resentful of those that had advantages she did not have and sees little value in those that do not strive for “more”. Thus she is constantly pushing her daughter to do more.  Beck is the result of privilege without discipline.  He is the cool-guy, that because of his looks, talent, and trust fund…  could do what he pleased—until his looks started to fade and the trust fund ran out.  His twin boys are good kids – but he is not really aware of the fact that they are separate beings from himself and from each other.  Ch”ayña is a grandmother desperately trying to keep her family connected to the traditions she was raised with. Brought to this country by her adult daughter she does not speak the language nor understand the benefit of a school that is far away from where they live with students that do not look like or act like she does.   She knows that her grandson is very special, but wants protect him from those that she thinks will exploit his talents and lure him away from his family.  The other points of view are from the children.  Emma Z is almost precocious and competitive to the point of almost being predatory.  She is privileged and pampered.  Due to her pedigree much is expected of her.  Tessa is the rebellious teen whose mother has pretty much given up on her.  But she hasn’t counted herself out yet.  When others see something in her she may rise to the challenge.  Then there is Zander.  The real brains of this outfit  that is pretty much too smart for his own good.  I find that by using both adult and youth perspectives, Bolsinger is able to more succinctly paint a  detailed picture of the motivations and effects of over zealous parenting.  

The Gifted School is Bruce Holsinger’s third novel.  His previous works were academic texts or historical fiction.  I believe that he is adept at this genre as well.  I enjoyed this fast paced, psychological fiction and I look forward to his next novel.