"This high-spirited, richly imagined, and brave novel is a delight to read... Smart and hilarious."
— Kirkus Reviews
Joyous, fast and funny, Scott Johnston’s Campusland is a satiric howl at today’s elite educational institutions—from safe spaces to tribal infighting to the sheer sanctimony. A wickedly delightful novel that may remind you of Tom Wolfe and David Lodge.
Her room sucks. Her closet isn’t big enough for two weeks’-worth of outfits, much less her new Rag & Bone for fall. And there’s nothing worth posting. Cruel. To Lulu Harris—It Girl-in-the-Making—her first year at the ultra-competitive Ivy-like Devon University is a dreary impediment. If she’s fabulous and no one sees it, what’s the point?
To Eph Russell, who looks and sounds like an avatar of privilege (shh!–he’s anything but) Devon is heaven. All day to think and read and linger over a Welsh rarebit at The Faculty Club, not to mention teach English 240 where he gets to discuss all his 19th Century favorites, like Mark Twain. If Eph could just get tenure, he could stay forever, but there are landmines everywhere.
In his seventh year at Devon, Red Wheeler is the alpha dog on top of Devon’s progressive hierarchy, the most woke guy on campus. But when his position is challenged, Red is forced to take measures.
Before first term is halfway finished, Lulu bungles her social cache with her clubbable upperclass peers, and is forced to reinvent herself. Shedding her designer clothes, she puts on flannel and a brand-new persona: campus victim. For Lulu to claw her way back to the top, she’ll build a pyre and roast anyone in her way.
Presiding over this ferment is Milton Strauss, Devon’s feckless president, who spends his days managing perpetually aggrieved students, scheming administrators, jealous professors, billionaire donors, and bumptious frat boys. He just can’t say yes fast enough. And what to do with Martika Malik-Adams? Isn’t her giant salary as vice-president of Diversity & Inclusion enough?
All paths converge as privileged, marginalized, and radical students form identity alliances, sacrifice education for outrage, and push varied agendas of political correctness that drags every free thought of higher learning into the lower depths of an entitled underclass.
Campusland is a riotous, subversive and fresh read.
Johnston's standout debut successfully skewers the politically correct culture of liberal arts colleges by chronicling how opportunists use it to their advantage at exclusive Devon University in New England. While teaching Mark Twain, earnest English professor Eph Russell gets unfairly branded a racist by a disingenuous group of self-righteous students led by trust-fund baby Red Wheeler. Red thinks of himself as the top progressive in the school, but he soon finds himself usurped by social-climbing freshman Lulu Harris. Having failed to make the cover of an NYC society rag and indignant after Eph rejects her advances, Lulu decides to put on a performance art project that involves her lying about Eph sexually assaulting her. As the lie gains traction and nationwide attention though Lulu remains vague about the meaning behind her project and even recants her accusation power-hungry school officials are blinded by their political correctness: they insist that Lulu must be in denial and Eph is trying to intimidate her. The book culminates in a confrontation orchestrated by Red between Lulu and some of her detractors, which transpires in front of the media, that helps decide Eph's fate. Johnston's writing is lively and takes his story through a few surprising turns. This strong debut will resonate with readers who enjoy their parody with a side of pathos.