His Favorites

Scribner. Aug. 2018. 160p. ISBN 9781476799391. $22; ebk. ISBN 9781476799414. F
OrangeReviewStarFifteen-year-old Jo, named for Louisa May Alcott's Little Women heroine, is a smart, rebellious, literature-loving teen in rural Maryland in the late 1970s. After a late-night summer prank involving a golf cart at the local country club goes horribly wrong, resulting in the death of her closest friend, Jo is bustled off to a tony New England boarding school to escape the anger and ostracism of her friends and neighbors. Her dead friend, Stephanie, hovers as a specter over the rest of the story, which is recounted by Jo as a narrative of past events. The title refers to girls like Jo, chosen by the "cool" teacher for "special attention" and sexual grooming in an era before #MeToo. Struggling to find her place in an alien social hierarchy, Jo herself becomes an unwitting participant in an episode of group bullying directed against her socially awkward, opera-loving roommate.
VERDICT Rendered in crystalline, matter-of-fact prose relating the narrator's own emotional numbness and distancing, this self-aware metanovel is well timed for our current political era. Walbert (A Short History of Women) packs a punch. [See Prepub Alert, 2/2/18.]

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