“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 entitlement, but beyond that there is the personal story of Kate, the main character.
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 and parents, as well as the school, it becomes obvious this book is an examination of human nature.
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 one’s 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.
“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.
Q and A with the author below:
Elise Cooper: Where did you get the idea for the story?
Amy Poeppel: It started quite a while ago, about eight years to be more exact. 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.
EC: What did you want to get across about the admissions process?
AP: It is a cruel and crazy system. I wanted to make it as painless as possible. Make it fun for the child and learn what are their interests and enjoyments in and out of school. I wondered if the parents chose a school for what they can brag about at a cocktail party or for the best choice for their child. It came down to a decision based upon if the school would be a good fit for the child.
EC: Did you base the children on those you knew at your school?
AP: Not on any particular child. It was more a compilation of cumulative experiences. I thought about the many students in NYC where the children are over indulged by the parents who tell them they can do anything and everything. I am amazed how parents allow the student’s to form the conclusion that if they’re not doing well in a class it is the teacher’s fault. Instead, they should be saying if you are not satisfied with your grade do something about it and work harder.
EC: The book was also about the personal story of Kate.
AP: 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.
EC: What do you want readers to get out of the book?
AP: 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?
EC: Can you give a heads up about your next book?
AP: It should be out in 2018. “Limelight” is a book that takes a fun look at motherhood, Broadway, and pop-star fame.