Trust Exercise

Holt. Apr. 2019. 272p. ISBN 9781250309884. $27; ebk. ISBN 9781250309891. F
In the first half of this latest novel from Choi (My Education), Sarah is studying at a performing arts high school in the 1980s. Owing to adolescent miscommunication, her summer romance with fellow student David crumbles once school resumes in the fall. Drama teacher Mr. Kingsley takes his students through acting exercises that seem to cross boundaries of appropriateness, particularly when involving teenagers with raging hormones and volatile emotions. A visiting theater troupe from England adds to the chaos, which has repercussions decades later. The novel's second section takes a somewhat metafictional approach, as "Karen," a minor character in the first half, objects to the fictional approach taken by "Sarah" in recounting the events in her novel. Throughout, Choi neither sentimentalizes nor trivializes the emotional lives of the teens. Whether by design or chance, the first half of the novel feels "truer" than the more contrived plot machinations of the second half, in which several characters reencounter one another during a play production a decade later. The latter, retrospective approach serves best in examining the confusion and ambiguity of teenage sexuality and how that can be exploited.
VERDICT Recommended for readers who invite direct challenges to the novelistic form.
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