Perfect for fans of Where’d You Go, Bernadette and Small Admissions, a wry and cleverly observed debut novel about the privileged bubble that is Liston Heights High—the micro-managing parents, the overworked teachers, and the students caught in the middle—and the fallout for each of them when the bubble finally bursts.
When a devoted teacher comes under pressure for her progressive curriculum and a helicopter mom goes viral on social media, two women at odds with each other find themselves in similar predicaments, having to battle back from certain social ruin.
Isobel Johnson has spent her career in Liston Heights sidestepping the community’s high-powered families. But when she receives a threatening voicemail accusing her of Anti-Americanism and a liberal agenda, she’s in the spotlight. Meanwhile, Julia Abbott, obsessed with the casting of the school’s winter musical, makes an error in judgment that has far-reaching consequences for her entire family.
Brought together by the sting of public humiliation, Isobel and Julia learn firsthand how entitlement and competition can go too far, thanks to a secret Facebook page created as an outlet for parent grievances. The Liston Heights High student body will need more than a strong sense of school spirit to move past these campus dramas in an engrossing debut novel that addresses parents behaving badly and teenagers speaking up, even against their own families.
West's humorous debut channels the competitive parenting and overblown school drama of Big Little Lies. Isobel Johnson, an English teacher at a top public school in Liston Heights, Minn., is bent on encouraging her students to think critically, but the school's administration and some of her students' parents accuse her of spreading radical ideas. First, a discussion on The Great Gatsby, in which she invited her juniors to compare their school's community to East Egg, allegedly results in some of the students being made to "feel bad about where they're from," so says her department chair. In chapters shifting between Isobel and a particularly over-the-top parent named Julia Abbott, fallout from another one of Isobel's lesson about queer theory leads to her suspension and a virulent social media campaign led by Julia. While many different characters flash by in short chapters, distracting from Isobel and Julia and staving off opportunities for emotional complexity, West successfully unpacks the problems of shaming and cancel culture with tight plotting and clean prose. West demonstrates a worthy talent for tragicomedy.