- Expected 18 Feb 2021
'A sincere, poignant and moving story of a group of teenage girls coming to terms with the world they've inherited' Taylor Jenkins Reid, New York Times bestselling author of Daisy Jones and the Six
An all-girls boarding school in a hilly corner of Connecticut, Atwater is a haven for progressive thinking and feminist intellectuals. The students are smart, driven and worldly; they are also teenagers, learning to find their way. But when they arrive on campus for the start of the fall term, they're confronted with startling news: an Atwater alumna has made a troubling allegation of sexual misconduct against an unidentified teacher. As the weeks wear on and the administration's efforts to manage the ensuing crisis fall short, these extraordinary young women come to realise that the adults in their lives may not be the protectors they previously believed.
All Girls unfolds over the course of one tumultuous academic year and is told from the point of view of a small cast of diverse, interconnected characters as they navigate the social mores of prep school life and the broader, more universal challenges of growing up. The trials of adolescent girlhood are pitched against the backdrop of sexual assault, consent, anxiety and the ways that our culture looks to young women as trendsetters, but otherwise silences their voices and discounts their opinions. The story that emerges is a richly detailed, impeccably layered, and emotionally nuanced depiction of what it means to come of age in a female body today.
Layden's incisive debut offers a composite portrait of an exclusive girls' boarding school on the cusp of a long-overdue reckoning with a sexual abuser on the faculty. The novel opens as an incoming first-year student arrives at the Atwater School in fall 2015, and her parents are troubled upon observing a series of signs reading "A Rapist Works Here" posted along the route to the campus. Subsequent chapters are structured around the defining traditions of an Atwater year, from initiation and fall fest to prom and commencement, and each one introduces at least two or three different students. The identity of the teacher who preyed on a student nearly 20 years earlier, prompting the poster campaign and other acts of protest, is eventually revealed, along with the identity of the current student bent on unmasking him. While the short narratives don't really give the reader sufficient time to get to know the characters, they coalesce into an overview of the school's culture, as the students begin to question the official word on the allegations. Notably, the novel is set just before #MeToo, creating an astute snapshot of a venerable institution being pulled, however unwillingly, into its future. Layden succeeds at bringing the effects of an institutional cover-up into sharp relief.