In an American suburb in the early 1980s, students at a highly competitive performing arts high school struggle and thrive in a rarified bubble, ambitiously pursuing music, movement, Shakespeare, and, particularly, their acting classes. When within this striving “Brotherhood of the Arts,” two freshmen, David and Sarah, fall headlong into love, their passion does not go unnoticed — or untoyed with — by anyone, especially not by their charismatic acting teacher, Mr. Kingsley.
The outside world of family life and economic status, of academic pressure and of their future adult lives, fails to penetrate this school’s walls — until it does, in a shocking spiral of events that catapults the action forward in time and flips the premise upside-down. What the reader believes to have happened to David and Sarah and their friends is not entirely true — though it’s not false, either. It takes until the book’s stunning coda for the final piece of the puzzle to fall into place — revealing truths that will resonate long after the final sentence.
As captivating and tender as it is surprising, Trust Exercise will incite heated conversations about fiction and truth, friendships and loyalties, and will leave readers with wiser understandings of the true capacities of adolescents and of the powers and responsibilities of adults.
Author: Susan Choi | Publisher: Henry Holt
Thank you so much, NetGalley and Henry Holt, for the advanced reading copy of this book. I so enjoyed it. FYI to all: It’s going to be published this coming Tuesday, April 9th. And you gotta read it.
Trust Exercise is going to be a hard book to review without spoilers (but I shall attempt). So much of what makes it great is in the surprises you get along the way as a reader. So you’re just going to have to trust me when I tell you that this book was really, really good.
One thing to know: The prose in this book is like poetry. It’s like music. It’s breathtaking and poignant and takes you on an emotional trip. If you love to read prose like that, then this book is absolutely for you. But if that kind of musical, somewhat flowery prose isn’t your style, no big; this one might not be for you.
The book opens from the almost-constant perspective of Sarah, a 15-year-old girl who attends a local high school for performing arts students. She and David have passionate summer love affair. But when they get back to school in the fall, their own inherent differences and the constant teenage-mixed-with-competitive-acting-class drama … splinters things. Sarah doesn’t quite know what happened and yet also knows full well what happened, and that’s pretty much how she lives her life.
I wish I could tell you more, but it really would spoil it, so I’m going to stop there. But the dust jacket does a good job with this description: “A shocking spiral of events catapults the action forward in time and flips the premise upside-down.”
I will say this: The book doesn’t read as though a teenager is narrating it. I have read some reviews that say the characters are just not believable as teenagers, but I kind of think that’s the point. Who among us hasn’t looked back at our teenage selves and thought, “Wow, if I had only known then what I know now.” or “Yeah at the time, I thought X, or I thought that I knew everything about Y, but wow, I was so wrong.” That’s what this narrative does. It gives us a bird’s-eye, more adult view of what these characters are thinking, feeling, and doing. Which is a whole thing in and of itself.
Here are some words from the book’s description that might seem overused, but could not be more true about this book: “Narrative-upending.” “Truths that will resonate long after the final sentence.” “Captivating.” “Tender.” “Surprising.”