Daily Archives: August 16, 2009

Review: Admission by Jean Hanff Korelitz

AdmissionMy rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

My biggest problem with this novel is that I kept wishing it was a different book.

“Admissions. Admission. Aren’t there two sides to the word? And two opposing sides…It’s what we let in, but it’s also what we let out.”

For years, 38-year-old Portia Nathan has avoided the past, hiding behind her busy (and sometimes punishing) career as a Princeton University admissions officer and her dependable domestic life. Her reluctance to confront the truth is suddenly overwhelmed by the resurfacing of a life-altering decision, and Portia is faced with an extraordinary test. Just as thousands of the nation’s brightest students await her decision regarding their academic admission, so too must Portia decide whether to make her own ultimate admission.

Admission is at once a fascinating look at the complex college admissions process and an emotional examination of what happens when the secrets of the past return and shake a woman’s life to its core.

The parts involving the admission process were quite interesting, but to me, they weren’t enough to carry the book. Portia showed us the recruiting process and the process to select applicants. We heard about the philosophical issues around who to admit– children of alumni vs. promising kids from disadvantaged backgrounds; students who are strong in many areas vs. those that are the best in one; and so on. The author did a wonderful job of bringing all of this to life.

Unfortunately, Portia is the only character that was fleshed out, and I never was really drawn into her drama.

Her story should have been more compelling to me. It’s hard to say more without spilling the beans on where the story goes. I’ll just say that she has had an eventful life, and it is all coming together in this book.  I wish I’d cared more about Portia.

As a character, Portia didn’t connect well with others.  This objectivity may be part of what made her a good at her job with admissions, but it didn’t serve her well personally.  We saw they other characters from her point of view, which might be why they generally seemed fairly flat.

Tthe other characters existed only for the purpose of defining Portia’s story. I wanted to get to know Susannah (her mother), John (the guy from her past), Jeremiah (the student she is strongly drawn to) and others.  I think if I’d seen less of Portia and more of some of the others around her, the book might have come together better for me.

Primarily, I wanted to know more about the teens applying to college.  If the author had filled out Jeremiah and Simone (very interesting students  from a new, highly non-traditional school), added in a couple of the kids we were introduced to from a typical prep school, then woven them with enough of Portia and her story to give us the behind the scenes look and tie it all together, it could have been a very interesting book.

That’s the book I kept wishing I was reading.

This book wasn’t bad.  It kept me comfortably making my way through it, and I really enjoyed some aspects.  It may not be fair to penalize it for not being the book I wanted, but this is my blog, and my view.  Because I’m not sure that this is fair, I’ll include links to these reviews for other perspectives:

I read this book as part of a buddy read with Jennifer at The Literate Housewife Review.  She had a drawing on her blog, and I was the lucky winner of a copy of the book from Hachette Book Group, and a chance to read and discuss the book with Jennifer on Twitter.

We kicked off our conversation with a chat when we were 7 chapters in.  We shared our thoughts about where we thought the book was going– we had some differing ideas about it.  On Sunday, we finished our conversation.

I’d say both of us were disappointed in the book.  My favorite parts (the admissions related scenes) didn’t work for her.  She most enjoyed the scenes where Portia began to move forward with some of the issues that had been haunting her for many years.  I just didn’t really care that much.

I do want to thank Jennifer and Hachette books.  I did enjoy both the read and the chat, thank you for the opportunity.


Posted by on August 16, 2009 in books, reviews


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