Friday, March 5, 2021

Book Review: Girls with Bright Futures

By Jami Denison

For most people, Varsity Blues was a movie featuring the former star of Dawson’s Creek. But in 2019, “Varsity Blues” became a criminal case, snaring corporate executives and B and C list celebrities in a cheating scheme to ensure their offspring got into colleges that would otherwise pass on them. It was an eye-opening reveal that even the wealthiest parents were convinced that only a top-rated college would guarantee their children’s future, and that they had to cheat to get them in. 

If the wealthy have to cheat, what hope do normal people have? 

In Girls with Bright Futures, a collaboration between authors Tracy Dobmeier and Wendy Katzman, three Seattle seniors—or, more accurately, their mothers—would do anything to go to Stanford. Unfortunately, several athletes from their exclusive prep school have already committed, and Stanford has let the school know that they will accept only one more student. Who will it be? Tech leader and millionaire Alicia is desperate for her daughter Brooke to attend, but Brooke couldn’t care less, and her grades show it. Winnie, the daughter of Alicia’s personal assistant Maren, is the class valedictorian and has dreamed of Stanford since she was ten years old. Kelly is determined that her daughter Krissie, second in the class, will follow in her footsteps to Stanford. When Winnie is critically injured in a hit-and-run just two days before the early admission deadline, the entire senior class wonders, who would go that far to take out the competition? 

Girls with Bright Futures starts out with a bang—the banging on Maren’s front door, as she’s awakened by the cops bringing the bad news about Winnie. For Maren, not only is she terrified for her daughter’s survival, but in a detail that quickly lets readers know how vulnerable she is, Maren also doesn’t know how she’s going to pay for Winnie’s care. Maren and Winnie don’t have health insurance.

The first half of the book alternates between Maren at Winnie’s hospital bedside, and the days and weeks leading up to the accident. The other (third person) points of views are Alicia’s and Kelly’s. An overworked mogul with a worthless husband, Alicia doesn’t care that Brooke isn’t at all interested in Stanford, nor does she have the intellectual chops to compete. And she’s furious that Maren’s daughter might get the coveted spot, after all she has done for that family. She’s not above threatening their futures to keep Winnie from applying. How far would she go? Kelly, on the opposite end of the spectrum, is a stay-at-home mom of three kids in private school. Her husband is a partner at a CPA firm, but they can barely afford all that tuition plus the extras that Krissie needs to compete. Kelly eats compulsively and Krissie is pulling her hair out. Either one of them could have snapped and gone after Winnie. And there are several other girls whose mothers don’t get point-of-view treatment, but they are just as smart and talented—and their parents just as wealthy. A dark horse could apply and steal that coveted Stanford spot!

Girls with Bright Futures has been compared to Big Little Lies, and it’s an accurate comparison. Fans of Liane Moriarty will love this book. I gobbled it up in two days, rooting hard for Winnie and Maren. As much as I enjoyed it, though, I found the subplot about Maren’s past and Winnie’s father to be too melodramatic and unrealistic. It had soap opera elements and a deus ex machina that didn’t fit with the overall tone of the novel. (Perhaps this is a result of having two authors?)

Overall, though, these Girls are a good fix for those of us who love “mom lit” but are getting a little tired of the pre-school Mommy wars. Parents of high-schoolers, though, may want to take a Valium before reading it. Reading about ACT scores, college essays, and the Common App may send stress levels through the roof. 

Thanks to SparkPoint Studio for the book in exchange for an honest review.

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