If you have a high school senior, you may have reached the end of one of the most stressful school years in your parenting career: college applications and admissions season. The end of March and April are full of anxiety for parents of high school seniors — and even parents of almost kindergartners and middle schoolers who apply to schools. How do I know? I read Getting In a new novel by Karen Stabiner, whose name might sound familiar from her HuffPost columns.
Getting In is a snapshop of high school seniors, their parents, and a slimy guidance counselor during senior year at private and public schools in the Los Angeles area. Stabiner takes us through the entire college application process, from the SAT to the rejection/acceptance letters. She takes an inherently stressful 9 months, the culmination of years of academic pressure, and created a witty, sharp, snarky novel that is fun to read.
In my sheltered world of still elementary school age and younger children and their parents, I know few kids who are in high school. And those that I know have been babysitters. One is now in the honors program at a local university. Another is so busy with her extra-curricular activities that she’s not available to babysit anymore. Both are amazing kids, young women. Smart, loads of common sense, beautiful who seem to possess a level of self esteem that I will, any day now, achieve.
These young women were not models for Getting In. But for good reason. Stabiner’s senior characters check off every possible item in the checklist of high school possibilities: public school kids, private school kids, privileged, multi-generational Ivy League applicants, girls obsessed with clothes; girls obsessed with grades. girls obsessed with everything. But it’s difficult for adults to portray teenagers these days without injecting some melancholy, but Stabiner gets the balance of teenage snark and vulnerability just right:
Katie was tired of being old news. The worst thing about getting in early was that everyone ignored you in April and expected you to be as happy for them as you expected them to be happy for you back in December. She looked forward to prom as a chance to reclaim her place on center stage, and she was not pleased to find out that Ron intended to ruin everything. She picked a little greet bit out of the penne and glared at her parents across the dinner table.
Parents cannot quite separate themselves from their children. Their lives revolve around the application process:”
Life, for Nora, had become an endless SAT exam. At seven forty-five on a Saturday morning she stood in her closet in her underwear, paralyzed by a series of multiple-choice questions.
Nora is Lauren’s mother. Focused on the well being of their children, these parents are defined not only which college their children go but to which colleges their children apply, their SAT scores. But as the process winds on and on, it consumes all families in its path, even those at public schools in less well-to-do Los Angeles neighborhoods:
The tunnel vision got worse every day, even among families that had in the past acknowledged the existence of more substantial threats to their happiness than a college rejection: rogue nuclear nations, a global food shortage, phenomena that people with stacked degrees from illustrious colleges and universities having trouble solving. The mood was only slightly more festive at Ocean Heights, where the demographics included families for whom a UC acceptance was heaven on earth, proof that they were about to send a first generation to college, or that they would spend fewer years in debt than they had feared.
And, yet, they are still clueless. Throughout the novel, Stabiner makes clear that parents may think they know what is going on with their kids, but in their obsession with prestige, they have no idea. Their kids miss admission deadlines, drink, lie and take advantage of the fact their parents are not electronically savvy.
Communications technology was kind to high school students: instant-messaging, texting, and the vibrate feature on cell phones made it impossible for a parent passing by the closed door of a child’s room to distinguish between the keyboard clack of homework and the keyboard clack of chatting with friends. Outside Lauren’s bedroom, her parents commented n how nice it was of her to help Chloe with her history paper rather than relax once her own homework was done. Inside Lauren’s bedroom, the girls flitted from from talk.collegeconfidential.com to a generalized Google search of “National Merit semifinalist cutoff scores.”
The admissions counselor at the private school is one of the few non-parents in this novel. And this guy, Ted, who is outwardly selfless and inwardly self-serving becomes food for Stabiner’s sharp eye for detail, irony and wit:
Five seasons later, Ted had calloused up. He could wrap a consoling arm around a devastated senior’s shoulder while he debated privately whether to have the mozzarella and tomato on a baguette or the deli meats on a ciabatta roll for lunch. It was what made him a success. He had learned to fight for every senior who had a chance and yet not to care where they ended up or rather, not to care in terms of a teenager’s broken heart……
All that mattered was the list of college acceptances that appeared in the annual report, the list that parents of prospective students compared to similar lists from competing schools when they were deciding where to send their seventh-graders to school.
And if you are still a parent of an elementary schooler, as I am, after reading Getting In you’ll say to yourself: I’ll never be like that. But now that I’ve been a parent for several years, I know that I will.