2.5 rounded up.
Alexandra Witt is desperate for work and to get out from
under parental pressure, and so she accepts a job teaching at Stonebridge
Academy, a third tier boarding school. She uncovers a dark tradition that
victimizes female students, and she helps them fight back. Thanks go to Net
Galley and Random House Ballantine for the review copy. This book is for sale
As the story opens, Witt discovers that a sick sext of a
girl in her first class is circulating; students are commenting on it with
their phones during her class. For no reason that I can discern, Witt doesn’t
take this problem to counseling or administration, but decides to deal with it,
and with the larger problem it represents, by becoming an unofficial advisor to
an unofficial revenge club. This turns out to be the better idea, because at
Stonebridge, the faculty are either complicit, in denial, or too caught up in
their own private woes to care. At any
rate, this hip new teacher is dubbed “the Pied Piper of Stonebridge Academy,”
and students—mainly girls–begin confiding in her.
My response to this book mirrors Lutz’s earlier novel, The Passenger. The beginning grabs me
immediately, and the author’s crackling wit and swift pacing make me certain I
am going to love this book. As the story develops, I occasionally doubt the
credibility of a detail here or there, and as a teacher, I wince at the
willingness Witt shows in tossing colleagues under the bus, but the story on
the whole is still entertaining enough that I set my doubts aside. You can
never enjoy a thriller without buying the premise, and so I continue, thinking now
that maybe this is a four star read rather than five, but it’s still absorbing,
and I want to see where it goes. But when I reach 66%, cracks start to form and
so at the climax, instead of being riveted, I feel as if I’ve been had.
The tipping point for me is the amount of prurient detail
given to the various sexual acts, most of them either sexual assaults or sex as
payback. It is as if the reader is expected to get a charge out of this
material, but since there’s obviously something seriously wrong with it, Lutz
casts it as a call to arms so that readers won’t feel guilty about immersing
themselves in sleaze. I was ready to
toss it aside at 66 percent; that’s enough for me, friends. I don’t care how it
ends anymore. But at the same time I was
on the hook for a review and I could tell the rest would be a fast read, so I
gritted my teeth and finished it.
And there’s the other problem, a common one in this genre:
it’s always so much easier to set a thriller up than it is to resolve it. The way
this story plays out has no feminist spark whatsoever—thus nullifying even the
faint murmur of MeToo that could be found earlier if you squinted a little and
didn’t think too hard—and is also preposterous.
A lot of other people have read this book and loved it; call
me a hard-ass if you will. But I always call them as I see them, and I see this
as dross. Don’t pay full freight unless your pockets are deep and your tolerance
phenomenal. Or you could just buy a better book instead.