Trust Exercise
Pulitzer Finalist Susan Choi's narrative-upending novel about what happens when a first love between high school students is interrupted by the attentions of a charismatic teacherIn 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.

Trust Exercise Details

TitleTrust Exercise
Author
LanguageEnglish
ReleaseApr 9th, 2019
PublisherHenry Holt and Co.
ISBN-139781250309884
Rating
GenreFiction, Literary Fiction, Contemporary

Trust Exercise Review

  • Larry H
    January 1, 1970
    Wow, this one didn't work for me at all. Given how much I read I guess it's surprising that it doesn't happen more often.Susan Choi's newest book, Trust Exercise , is a marvel of language and imagery, but on the whole, I found it confusing, a bit meandering, and once Choi flipped the script on the plot, I wondered whether what I was reading was actually happening or if it was a figment of the characters' imagination.The book took place in the early 1980s at the Citywide Academy for the Performi Wow, this one didn't work for me at all. Given how much I read I guess it's surprising that it doesn't happen more often.Susan Choi's newest book, Trust Exercise , is a marvel of language and imagery, but on the whole, I found it confusing, a bit meandering, and once Choi flipped the script on the plot, I wondered whether what I was reading was actually happening or if it was a figment of the characters' imagination.The book took place in the early 1980s at the Citywide Academy for the Performing Arts. The first-year students are ready to being learning Stagecraft, Shakespeare, the Sight-Reading of Music, and, of course, acting, where their charismatic teacher, Mr. Kingsley, puts them through a variety of trust exercises, challenging their sensory perceptions and awakening their emotions.Two students, Sarah and David, fall for each other, and begin a passionate yet mercurial relationship in full view of their fellow students. But neither of them are ready for the ramifications of a relationship, and they're not prepared for the manipulations of their peers—or Mr. Kingsley, for that matter. In an effort to drown out the pressures of everyday life, Sarah makes a decision which has major ramifications, ramifications that ripple long into the future.And then Choi speeds up the timeline and sets the book in the future, and the whole narrative goes hazy, so you're not sure if what you read actually happened, or if Choi simply wants you to question the storyline. But that's not her only gimmick, as she throws yet another twist into the plot that once again left me shaking my head.Susan Choi has been a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize, and certainly there's no doubt about her writing ability. But unfortunately, Trust Exercise never worked for me. I have seen some really positive reviews, however, so it may work for someone else.NetGalley and Henry Holt & Company provided me a copy of the book in exchange for an unbiased review. Thanks for making this available! See all of my reviews at itseithersadnessoreuphoria.blogspot.com, or check out my list of the best books I read in 2017 at https://itseithersadnessoreuphoria.blogspot.com/2018/01/the-best-books-i-read-in-2017.html.
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  • Ron Charles
    January 1, 1970
    One lurks in every high school: a charismatic teacher who cultivates a clique of acolytes. Miss Jean Brodie aside, this teacher is typically a man in his prime, parceling out the precious gift of his intimacy to a select group. No matter how many years have passed, you can probably still recall his name at your own school: the droll iconoclast who always seemed at odds with the administration, the cool teacher who made thrillingly inappropriate asides. Amid rumors of some past glory, he radiated One lurks in every high school: a charismatic teacher who cultivates a clique of acolytes. Miss Jean Brodie aside, this teacher is typically a man in his prime, parceling out the precious gift of his intimacy to a select group. No matter how many years have passed, you can probably still recall his name at your own school: the droll iconoclast who always seemed at odds with the administration, the cool teacher who made thrillingly inappropriate asides. Amid rumors of some past glory, he radiated an air of long-suffering superiority, as though his willingness to teach mere high school students were another example of his largesse.In fact, as you realize later, he could thrive nowhere else but in that moist terrarium of adolescent desire. He was a vampire thirsty for the fervor of teenage boys and girls.That immortal figure rises up at the center of Susan Choi’s “Trust Exercise,” the latest of her startling novels about academic life. Mr. Kingsley is a theater teacher at Citywide Academy for the Performing Arts, an elite institution “intended to cream off the most talented” students and prepare them for “their exceptional lives.” Mr. Kingsley is exotic by the standards of this unnamed Southern town in the early 1980s. He once lived in New York! He refers to Broadway star Joel Grey as Joel! He owns a “bizarre human-size doll that was supposed to be called a ‘soft sculpture.’” To the theater students desperate for his attention, “Mr. Kingsley was impossibly witty and sometimes impossibly cutting; the prospect of talking with him was terrifying and galvanizing; one longed to live up to his brilliance and equally feared that it couldn’t be done.”This is the most precise skewering of a magnetic teacher since Muriel Spark’s 1961 classic. Choi’s voice blends an adolescent’s awe with an adult’s irony. It’s a letter-perfect satire of the special strain of egotism and obsession that can fester in academic settings. Choi is particularly attentive to Mr. Kingsley’s inane maxims, which his adoring students polish into sacred . . . .To read the rest of this review, go to The Washington Post:https://www.washingtonpost.com/entert...
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  • Adam Dalva
    January 1, 1970
    Incredibly ambitious structurally, with a shape that is more organically interesting than ASYMMETRY (which it is quite similar to). Reminds me a bit of SPECIAL TOPICS IN CALAMITY PHYSICS, but loses its connection to the fun teen drama that propels the first 100 pages of the novel. A very, very fun book to talk about, and think about. I'm just not sure: the ambiguity about what is true at the end of the novel is a slight misstep - I would have liked this a touch better if, toward the end, there h Incredibly ambitious structurally, with a shape that is more organically interesting than ASYMMETRY (which it is quite similar to). Reminds me a bit of SPECIAL TOPICS IN CALAMITY PHYSICS, but loses its connection to the fun teen drama that propels the first 100 pages of the novel. A very, very fun book to talk about, and think about. I'm just not sure: the ambiguity about what is true at the end of the novel is a slight misstep - I would have liked this a touch better if, toward the end, there had been more answers. I love withholding novels, but I'm not quite sure if the math of this structure quite adds up.
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  • Julie Ehlers
    January 1, 1970
    Trust Exercise is a novel about a performing-arts high school in a sprawling southern city that for some reason is never named (it's Houston). The first half of it is told from the point of view of Sarah, one of the students, who goes through the usual issues with friends and boyfriends and parents, although everything is ratcheted up to 11 here, I guess to emphasize that performing-arts schools can be a tad... dramatic? Self-important? Certainly the writing in the first half of the book would s Trust Exercise is a novel about a performing-arts high school in a sprawling southern city that for some reason is never named (it's Houston). The first half of it is told from the point of view of Sarah, one of the students, who goes through the usual issues with friends and boyfriends and parents, although everything is ratcheted up to 11 here, I guess to emphasize that performing-arts schools can be a tad... dramatic? Self-important? Certainly the writing in the first half of the book would support this idea: Sure, everything feels like a big deal in high school, but does it really feel like THIS BIG of a deal? Everything is overwrought. Everything is overwritten. Everything is like a tiny terrarium into which way too many lizards have been crammed. The sides of the terrarium are steaming up! Everyone is flushing pink and sweating (literally; I got a little tired of learning how everyone smelled)! Who keeps reaching into the terrarium and poking the lizards? Why, the illustrious drama teacher Mr. Kingsley, a man with such an inflated sense of the significance of himself and his theatre (never theater, god forbid) department that he was only bearable if, every time he appeared, I imagined Jon Lovitz's voice in my head, intoning:HELLO! I AM LLEWELLYN SINCLAIR! Here’s Mr. Kingsley’s oversize ego on display: Here’s Mr. Kingsley getting inappropriately involved in his students’ personal lives: Honestly, everything about this section annoyed me, from the creepy adults to the creepy students to the eyerolling intensity (HELLO! I AM LLEWELLYN SINCLAIR!) of everything they did. Houston was portrayed as a bunch of parking lots connected by multilane boulevards and highways, which was probably accurate but horrible to have to spend time in. Everything was yucky and gross and impossible to care about. I wanted to give up so much but kept going because (1) I have liked Susan Choi’s work in the past, so I was giving her the benefit of the doubt; and (2) I’d heard there was some kind of “twist” halfway through, and I was curious about what it was. I thought there was a chance the book could still be redeemed.Then the “twist” happened. Without really giving anything away, the twist is that the second half of the book is told from the point of view of a character who is peripheral to the first half of the novel. Peripheral Character is here to let you know that not everything Sarah told you is true. Peripheral Character is also extremely boring and prone to parsing words, listing their synonyms and how they can circle back around to words that don’t mean quite the same thing as the words they are supposed to be synonymous with. The point of this seems to be that NOTHING IS AS IT SEEMS. The New Yorker review makes much of all this, intoning that the first half “of the story serves one of its characters [i.e., Sarah] more than the others.” But isn’t this how it always is in fiction? The author chooses which characters to use to tell the story. The other characters are there but don’t really get a say in what’s going on. This is literally what happens in every piece of fiction. Why is it unique here? Is it because Choi switches to the point of view of a character who was peripheral in the first half? For me, it just heightened the level of “Who cares?” about the whole thing. Who cares about Peripheral Character? Who cares if Peripheral Character says not everything happened the way Sarah told it? Who cares what Peripheral Character’s experiences were? Peripheral Character sometimes switches back and forth between first and third person to remind us that she, too, is adding her own gloss on things, but… who cares?“Isn’t it all fiction anyway?” I kept asking myself. This is the first time I can remember ever asking that about a novel I was reading. Usually these issues of character reliability, of point of view, of plot, matter to me. I would ordinarily never say “Who cares? Isn’t it all fiction anyway?” The fact that I did it multiple times with Trust Exercise can mean only one thing: This novel didn’t work for me at all. And those endings! An initial "ending" that was simultaneously preposterous and utterly predictable, followed by another “twist,” with an even higher “Who cares?” factor than the previous one, that didn’t tell me anything I hadn’t already figured out long ago.Trust Exercise made me think a lot about experimental fiction. If you asked me, I would say that I love experimental fiction! I love having the rug pulled out from under me, I love having to think about who to believe, I love having to turn the whole thing over in my head and figure out how it works. But Trust Exercise really brought home the idea that if your novel doesn’t have a solid foundation—credible characters, good writing, a plot that really works—an “experiment” turns into nothing more than a cheap trick. And that’s what we have here.As I mentioned, I’ve liked Susan Choi’s writing in the past. I also once met her at a reading and she seemed like a great person. For these reasons, I almost gave this book 2 stars. But the fact is, for any other writer, this would have been an obvious 1-star. The fact that I know Susan Choi knows what she’s doing actually makes things worse, not better. She obviously thought what she was giving us in Trust Exercise was good enough. For me, it was not good enough. This book was the worst kind of trust exercise: I had faith that Susan Choi would catch me, and instead she just let me hit the floor. The headache I got is nothing compared to the disappointment I feel.
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  • Tammy
    January 1, 1970
    To one degree or another we are manipulated by writers. I don’t think it matters if we read fiction or nonfiction we are influenced just the same. Skillful writers tinker with our beliefs, emotions, philosophies, knowledge (or lack thereof) and so much more. On some level, regardless if we agree or disagree or if we like or dislike what is presented, an element of trust comes into play. Beyond the trust exercises that the characters engage in during theater classes, this novel is an exercise in To one degree or another we are manipulated by writers. I don’t think it matters if we read fiction or nonfiction we are influenced just the same. Skillful writers tinker with our beliefs, emotions, philosophies, knowledge (or lack thereof) and so much more. On some level, regardless if we agree or disagree or if we like or dislike what is presented, an element of trust comes into play. Beyond the trust exercises that the characters engage in during theater classes, this novel is an exercise in trusting the author. Told in three parts, each part turns the preceding part on its ear. This comes off as a contrivance rather than as a subtle manipulation. While this is skillfully written and structurally enterprising, on the whole it was much too obvious for my taste.
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  • Meike
    January 1, 1970
    This experimental novel discusses consent by shifting timelines and perspectives, thus forcing the reader to question and re-adjust which characters to trust - and it's no spoiler to state that in the end, no one will turn out to be who you thought they'd be. Choi starts with a high school drama that then turns into a meta-fictional revenge tale only to end in an even more disturbing coda, and I just love how she defies expectations and disrupts narrative conventions: There's a certain brutality This experimental novel discusses consent by shifting timelines and perspectives, thus forcing the reader to question and re-adjust which characters to trust - and it's no spoiler to state that in the end, no one will turn out to be who you thought they'd be. Choi starts with a high school drama that then turns into a meta-fictional revenge tale only to end in an even more disturbing coda, and I just love how she defies expectations and disrupts narrative conventions: There's a certain brutality in the ever-shifting reading experience, and the novel also requires some detective work in oder to find out what is actually going on, so there's all the stuff I enjoy in experimental fiction! In the first part of the book (there are no chapters or other indicators, you have to unlock the story) which takes place in the early 80s, we meet Sarah and David who are students at a renowned arts high school in an unnamed big city in the southern part of the United States. In an environment full of aspiring artists who dream of taking the big stage, dynamics of power and dependency unfold. The enigmatic theater teacher uses his position to manipulate students, and he submits them under so-called "trust exercises" where they have to look at each other, repeat each other's sentences or openly reveal all kinds of hidden thoughts. When David and Sarah fall in love, their relationship quickly turns sour and Sarah ends up having an affair with a much older theater teacher who visits the school with his own students from England. I will certainly NOT tell you what happens next, because it would ruin the reading experience for you, but let me say that after reading the whole novel, you will give a very different account regarding what happens in the book than I just did. Choi negotiates power in sexual relationships, responsibility, victimhood, and awareness, and she does it in a very clever, challenging way. Other reviewers compared this book to Asymmetry, and there is some truth to that, but Choi uses her narrative shifts to constantly re-write part one, thus illustrating the effects of framing, scope, perspective and also empathy. Here, the asymmetry is brought about by the point of view and, above all, the judgement passed by different characters. I applaud Susan Choi for this daring feat of a book, it's engaging, surprising and intelligent. I hope she'll get nominated for some awards, because this novel deserves attention.
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  • Caroline
    January 1, 1970
    ***NO SPOILERS***(Full disclosure: Book abandoned on page 61 [out of 257 pages].)It's so important to care about characters, really care, to be invested in what happens in a story. I couldn't care less about those in Susan Choi's Trust Exercise. In part one, the story is about high school freshmen David and Sarah studying drama in the early 1980s as they develop a romantic relationship. I couldn’t get a solid grasp of just who these young teens are; they’re just names on a page, not characters b ***NO SPOILERS***(Full disclosure: Book abandoned on page 61 [out of 257 pages].)It's so important to care about characters, really care, to be invested in what happens in a story. I couldn't care less about those in Susan Choi's Trust Exercise. In part one, the story is about high school freshmen David and Sarah studying drama in the early 1980s as they develop a romantic relationship. I couldn’t get a solid grasp of just who these young teens are; they’re just names on a page, not characters brought to life. I attribute this to Choi's love of narrative summary. There's little action and dialogue in Trust Exercise that would have allowed me to draw my own conclusions about David and Sarah and the peripheral characters. Instead, in large blocks of text, Choi told me all about them: their history, their thoughts and feelings, what they think of various other characters--everything. It's dispassionate storytelling. In no time I was bored. As for David and Sarah's relationship, it begins with a groping where the consent is questionable but that Choi presented as acceptable. From there, the relationship is defined mostly by overly detailed sex, which left a sour taste in my mouth. Yes, many teens have sex, but there's something repellent about reading every detail of their encounters. A fade-to-black would have worked just fine. As someone who loves stories set in academia, I looked very forward to reading Trust Exercise, but it's firmly set in the world of drama students. I haven't studied drama extensively, which would be a non-factor if Choi hadn't described the classes in a way that only drama students could appreciate. For pages, she described each aspect of a trust exercise between David and Sarah, from the small to the big as if making very clear that she has a background in drama. (I can only assume.) There’s supposed to be tension in this scene, but owing to superficial characterization and Choi's failure to establish high stakes, it's instead tedious. David and Sarah aren't compelling.The literati will probably adore Trust Exercise. Choi was a Pulitzer-prize nominee for a previous work, and Trust Exercise is written in that introspective, artistic (and sometimes hilariously overwrought) style that makes snobby intellectuals feel smart for appreciating. As a literature-lover who wants and expects the full package in a story--skilled writing, organized plotting, and full-bodied characters--I contend that Trust Exercise is simply bad. The literati can have it; all other readers should look elsewhere.NOTE: I received this as an Advanced Reader Copy from LibraryThing in January 2019.
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  • Michelle
    January 1, 1970
    Thank you to Henry Holt & Company and Netgalley for the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.Boy, oh boy - where to start? Unfortunately, I have no real positive things to say about this book. I have had it for weeks. Within the first 10 pages I knew this was going to be something I would struggle with. The best way I can describe it is trying to read a book while it's under water. It's never quite fully in focus and I felt like I was only picking up every other wor Thank you to Henry Holt & Company and Netgalley for the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.Boy, oh boy - where to start? Unfortunately, I have no real positive things to say about this book. I have had it for weeks. Within the first 10 pages I knew this was going to be something I would struggle with. The best way I can describe it is trying to read a book while it's under water. It's never quite fully in focus and I felt like I was only picking up every other word or so. To explain it another way - there is way too much superfluous language and also it doesn't read how I would normally talk. I felt like I was reading a translation of another language. Susan Choi obviously has a talent for the written word, but I wouldn't say she writes for the reader, she writes for herself and the literary critics. (I could be way off base here, and I don't mean this in a mean way, but when 2 or 3 words work, why do you need to use 10? To show off?)I thought this book would be kind of like Fame - young kids (Sarah and David) who fall in love in the 1980s at a prestigious art school. Not even close. I feel terrible saying this, but don't waste your time. There are too many amazing books out there.
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  • Jessica Woodbury
    January 1, 1970
    This is a book that has some structural tricks up its sleeve, similar to books like FATES & FURIES and ASYMMETRY. So you need to proceed with caution when reading anything about it. Just saying it plays with structure feels like a bit of a spoiler, but in this case (like both the books I mentioned before) I think it's good to know because some may find the first section of the book grating enough to quit, not knowing what they are losing by bailing early. Like the other two books, I'd recomm This is a book that has some structural tricks up its sleeve, similar to books like FATES & FURIES and ASYMMETRY. So you need to proceed with caution when reading anything about it. Just saying it plays with structure feels like a bit of a spoiler, but in this case (like both the books I mentioned before) I think it's good to know because some may find the first section of the book grating enough to quit, not knowing what they are losing by bailing early. Like the other two books, I'd recommend you get at least halfway through before you decide to jump ship. Now that I've said all that I have the tricky job of trying to tell you all the ways this book thrilled me without being able to actually tell you about the book. TRUST EXERCISE feels like it's in conversation with Choi's last novel, MY EDUCATION. It feels like there are ideas around the power dynamics between men and women, between teachers and students, that she is not done working out. It feels like the right time to do that, the book is timely in a way that makes me worry about seeing too many reviews with hashtag-metoo attached to it, but it really does feel like it's of this particular moment. It is about the narratives women give themselves about the relationships and encounters with men that can leave them with scars of all sizes. It's about the intensity of being a teenager, the depth of feeling and experience that happens without a full understanding of what it means and who you are. There is some particular joy in this book for theater kids, who will recognize the tight-knit community theater kids form that includes its own dramas and jealousies. It is also a book about the way writers process and change the world and does so in a way that feels fresh and not just another writer-writing-about-writers retread. I noted in my review of MY EDUCATION how very sharp and amazing Choi's prose and observations are, and I noticed it once again here. Sometimes she has a sentence that makes you gasp from the truth and perfection of it. The style of the prose, overall, can be a bit confounding. It's purposeful, this is a book that makes the reader work, a book that is always aware of just how much it knows that you don't. It can take a little time to get your head straight sometimes, and an entire section switches pronouns just to remind you of its little trick in a way that some may find infuriating but that I adored. (I have a feeling there is a decent number of people who will find the entire book infuriating but I will continue to passionately love and defend it. I love this exact kind of difficult book.)I am seriously considering re-reading this entire book. (After finishing I immediately reread the final section, which was 100% the right decision.) Even better, I am considering re-reading MY EDUCATION and then re-reading this book. I have a tendency to race when I enjoy a book, I can't let myself slow down and feel it and this time I would like to savor every bite.Update: I reread MY EDUCATION and then reread TRUST EXERCISE and it was fantastic, highly recommended. TRUST EXERCISE is a book that can leave you feeling like the floor has been pulled out from under you and not all readers like that. This kind of structure can also mean the book doesn't hold up upon subsequent readings. But this one absolutely does. In fact, I had even more joy the second time through knowing what the pieces were and seeing how Choi brings them together. And seeing the ways in which she leaves questions still open. I am fascinated by the ways in which we process the same experiences differently and this book dives into that so hard, I just loved it. I loved how the narrative "tricks" of the book aren't just there to trick you, they're there to tell you something specific about who these people are and why they are telling this specific story. I particularly love the shifting voice and acerbic tone of the second section, it was so incredibly gratifying.
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  • Jenna
    January 1, 1970
    Ugh, I loved (although admittedly do not remember) My Education, but I found this unbearable. Sadly, DNF.(If this had been a real-life Trust Exercise, I’d hope for a workaday ground-level trust fall rather than a tree canopy ropes course, as I found myself Not Caught.)
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  • Jan
    January 1, 1970
    Oh, this is a tricky one, and the less you know about it going in, the better. I especially enjoyed Choi’s use of voice, the switchbacks in characterizations, the timeliness, and the witty way Choi messes with readers’ expectations. Just read it!
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  • Marjorie
    January 1, 1970
    Susan and David are students at the Citywide Academy for the Performing Arts (CAPA). This school is a highly competitive school, teaching music, Shakespeare, movement and acting. Susan and David are passionately in love and consummate their love during the summer. However, when they return to school in the fall, their relationship falls apart. Their struggle becomes much more public when Mr. Kingsley makes them the cruel focus during his trust exercises.I really don’t want to say much about the Susan and David are students at the Citywide Academy for the Performing Arts (CAPA). This school is a highly competitive school, teaching music, Shakespeare, movement and acting. Susan and David are passionately in love and consummate their love during the summer. However, when they return to school in the fall, their relationship falls apart. Their struggle becomes much more public when Mr. Kingsley makes them the cruel focus during his trust exercises.I really don’t want to say much about the plot of this book. Suffice it to say that everything in the first half of the book is turned upside down during the second half and then again in the short coda. It’s the type of book that must be read to be appreciated. What I loved about it is its unique structure. It’s a searing observation of memory and the telling of stories. I read so many books that I’m sometimes bogged down by the same old type of stories and am constantly on the hunt of those completely distinctive, one-of-a-kind books. I found it in this one. When I put a book down and later think of picking it up again, there’s a second of remembering exactly what book I’m reading. I think “Oh, THAT book” or “OH, that book?” but with this book I thought “Oh, that BOOK!” (Those that have read this book will understand though I doubt if I did it as well as the author did.) The author is a master at pulling her readers into some very unsettling and uncomfortable scenes and letting them squirm along with her characters. Everything is not outlined in black and white with this author and I loved that. On the hunt now for more of the works of this brave, innovative author.Most highly recommended.This book was given to me by the publisher in return for an honest review.
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  • Tyler Goodson
    January 1, 1970
    The less you know the better. There is a performing arts school, there are students, there is a teacher. How they intertwine and mutate and rearrange themselves is the joy of this novel, and it is a thrilling pleasure to read. Choi drops sentences like bombs, and plays with form and structure in ways that feel exciting and exhilarating, never gimmicky or fake. I can't wait for everyone to be talking about this book.
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  • Kayla | kaylagetsread
    January 1, 1970
    Choi is a talented writer—Her use of language and description is truly incredible and set apart.Here's why I DNFd:Stream of consciousness. No chapters. Random changes in narrative. Random changes in timeline. This is a little too literary for me. I know a lot of people that would love it for the reasons I did not and enjoy putting in the work to uncover the themes within this book. DNF at 40%.I received a free digital copy of this book from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.
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  • Jessica Sullivan
    January 1, 1970
    This inventive and ambitious novel displays a clever mastery of both language and storytelling. Nevertheless, I’m not sure I fully enjoyed it.It’s one of those books where the less you know, the better, so you can encounter its disorienting narrative shifts as blindly as possible.What I will say is that it’s about a group of teenagers at an elite performing arts school, and the disquieting experiences that reverberate through their lives for years to come.To temper reader expectations, I think i This inventive and ambitious novel displays a clever mastery of both language and storytelling. Nevertheless, I’m not sure I fully enjoyed it.It’s one of those books where the less you know, the better, so you can encounter its disorienting narrative shifts as blindly as possible.What I will say is that it’s about a group of teenagers at an elite performing arts school, and the disquieting experiences that reverberate through their lives for years to come.To temper reader expectations, I think it’s important to note that while there are twists, they are subtler and more experimental than what most readers, myself included, are accustomed to. I was anticipating a moment of intense shock or cohesiveness that never really arrived.The prose is dense, with thick paragraphs and minimal dialogue: this is no page-turner, but a book that makes you work. And there are indeed rewards along the way: passages and insights that are strangely mesmerizing.At the heart of this novel are timely and uncomfortable themes, such as consent and power dynamics. But really what it’s about are the ways that we shape our narratives and deal with the past, the perspectives that get muddled and lost when we play the role of both director and main character in the story of our lives.If any of this sounds intriguing, it’s because it is. But I can’t stress enough that you have to be willing to work for this book, so I would recommend it primarily to people who enjoy the challenge of experimental fiction. I’m still not quite sure if the payoffs and revelations were enough for me, but I appreciate Choi’s cleverness.
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  • Gabe
    January 1, 1970
    Trust Exercise has the most audacious narrative shift I've read since John Fowles's The Collector, and then it somehow keeps getting better on the way to an unforgettable ending. This novel is a work of genius and destined to be a future classic.
  • Sonya
    January 1, 1970
    Susan Choi's Trust Exercise asks readers to abandon preconceived ideas about what a novel should be and allow three characters to share their own specific experiences that (tangentially) center on a failed high school romance. There have been some recent examples of this type of multi-perspective novel, including Lisa Halliday's Asymmetry and Lauren Groff's Fates and Furies. These types of novels require a concerted effort to understand what core truth will hold its parts together. And Susan Cho Susan Choi's Trust Exercise asks readers to abandon preconceived ideas about what a novel should be and allow three characters to share their own specific experiences that (tangentially) center on a failed high school romance. There have been some recent examples of this type of multi-perspective novel, including Lisa Halliday's Asymmetry and Lauren Groff's Fates and Furies. These types of novels require a concerted effort to understand what core truth will hold its parts together. And Susan Choi's novel fits into the category, though not as successfully.The first half of the novel is about Sarah, one of the teens in love, who attends a prestigious arts high school. She meets David; they have a powerful sexual connection but are unequipped to relate beyond the physical, and things fizzle after they have a public act of sexual congress in their school hallway.This third-person narrative is about Sarah's breakup agony and her pain when beloved drama teacher Mr. Kingsley mines the Sarah/David relationship with some repetitive trust exercises the whole class must watch, "So much of what they do, with Mr. Kingsley, is restraint in the name of release. It seems they have to throttle their emotions to have complete access to them." (These excruciating scenes recall the brainwashing episode in the movie The Master, where nascent Scientologists make Joaquin Phoenix run into a wall over and over again). Eventually, Sarah is demoted to the crew that takes care of the costumes and lighting. In her castigation, Sarah is out of Kingsley's protective embrace and left to the wiles of a troupe of students from England, and their teacher, Martin, who were invited to put on Voltaire's Candide and end up scandalizing the program with a bawdy performance that causes the show to be cancelled.The writing in this first part is stylized and energetic, "By and large, the girls grow increasingly serious as the boys grow increasingly ludicrous. The girls no longer walk, they glide, they skim, they slice" and Sarah's honest observations about the limits of the teenage perspective and the perils of thwarted romance leave readers with an assumed understanding of the facts.The second part of the novel knocks those facts down. Here, a character only barely mentioned, Karen, is out to avenge herself because she'd been unfairly excised in Sarah's published novel. That's right, Part One is not an omniscient close narration of Sarah's story, but Sarah's own words ripped from her life, molded into art, by her. In Karen's view, Karen and Sarah were in a friendship that has been unfairly kept from Sarah's novel. Karen regards herself as a person with impeccable memory and precise language. She relies on dictionary definitions and word origins to bolster her arguments; they are proof that she is the better thinker, that she knows herself better than Sarah knows Sarah via the novel. Yet Karen reveals that she has read only 131 pages of Sarah's book, which, if true, means that she isn't responding to the text as much as she is the erasure of the friendship and the weight it deserves.Carefully recalling the details of both stories, the "real" novel becomes more metafictional exercise than cohesive story. While it is supposedly a correction to the record from the artifices of Sarah's novel, Karen's account farcically manipulates the characters, twelve years later, into performing in a bad play. To achieve this, Karen finesses an alcoholic, abased David into letting her manage the details of his theater productions; she insinuates herself into a starring role in the play; she lures novelist Sarah to come be her dresser for old time's sake; she eagerly awaits the arrival of playwright Martin, the former teacher from the fiasco that was Candide. For Karen had had a sexual relationship with Martin, who had been over forty at the time she was sixteen, and after he returned to England, stopped communicating with her. As payback, she will surprise him as his co-star. And she has a surprise for Sarah, also payback for being abandoned by Sarah in their lives and in Sarah's novel. Karen's accounting of all this feels like bent nails cobbling together a manic convergence of all the pain from her past. Karen will not be a side character. No way. Karen's final paragraph could have been the end of the book, but Choi wasn't content to stop there. Instead, a third voice emerges, one not yet heard from in either Sarah's or Karen's sections. And while the facts of Karen's story aren't pushed aside, this new perspective adds confusion that destabilizes Choi's novel further. At minimum, a successful reading experience asks that the reader be gratified that the effort yields some satisfaction, if not enjoyment. A challenging text can be a revelation, even if it requires some thumbing back through the pages. Yet if there are no markers to a truth, it is nothing in the end more than a game. That is the fate of Trust Exercise. A strong first half buffeted by a frenetic rebuttal might have been enough. But some of the power of that interplay was blurred by the coda.
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  • Mary
    January 1, 1970
    Wow—what to say? Perhaps I should start by noting that so many critics love this book—starred reviews in Kirkus, Publisher’s Weekly and so many others and a multi-page favorable spread in The New Yorker. I have to admit I’m baffled by this, as Trust Exercise shook my trust in critics and became an exercise in endurance. The novel starts out as the story of students in a performing arts high school and quickly zeroes in on two of them, Sarah and David, who share a passionate summer love affair be Wow—what to say? Perhaps I should start by noting that so many critics love this book—starred reviews in Kirkus, Publisher’s Weekly and so many others and a multi-page favorable spread in The New Yorker. I have to admit I’m baffled by this, as Trust Exercise shook my trust in critics and became an exercise in endurance. The novel starts out as the story of students in a performing arts high school and quickly zeroes in on two of them, Sarah and David, who share a passionate summer love affair before the pressure of being back at school immediately (and somewhat inexplicably) breaks them up. The remainder of the book’s first half is a slog through their now estranged relationship, as they are pressured by their creepy acting teacher, Mr. Kingsley, to dig into their emotions during acting class “trust exercises” and as they both move on to other equally bad relationships with members of an acting troupe from England in town to put on a performance of Candide.Neither Sarah nor David was a believable or compelling character; I didn’t care about them or their relationship at all, particularly when I had to read lines like, “When unavoidably they met in classrooms David stared coldly and Sarah stared even more bitterly coldly and it was a contest, to pile up coldness, to shovel it furiously from their hearts.” I kept going, though, willing to give Choi the benefit of the doubt (she’s a Pulitzer finalist, after all!) and hang in there until the much vaunted twist that was going to justify everything and turn the book around. Nope—the second half with its new narrator/main character (the points of view change sentence to sentence) was possibly more annoying than the first (though it did explain why I had to suffer through the Candide stuff, which is something). Throw in a preposterous and ridiculously telegraphed ending and an unnecessary coda and this was a very rare one star read for me.I’d like to thank NetGalley and Henry Holt & Company for providing me an ARC of this title in exchange for my honest review. I truly wish I had liked it, but as I say, many people have and I’m sure it will find an appreciative audience. Maybe it’s me....
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  • Faith
    January 1, 1970
    I didn’t really care for this book. I like books to have chapters. Omitting them is both pretentious and annoying. I also like books to have comprehensible plots. This book didn’t have chapters or a plot that led anywhere, so it lost me. However, I did manage to make it to the end. I received a free copy of this book from the publisher.
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  • Jenn Conwell
    January 1, 1970
    Susan Choi is a Pulitzer prize finalist and it’s easy to tell why. Susan is gifted with a wonderful knack for writing beautiful prose literature. The thing that really stopped me in my tracks with reading this book is that it is one stream of consciousness. There are no chapters to this book. Yup, you heard me right – none. One long rambling narrative. The story itself is a truly in-depth look at high school life in the 1980s. I think she did an excellent job at capturing the truth of what it wa Susan Choi is a Pulitzer prize finalist and it’s easy to tell why. Susan is gifted with a wonderful knack for writing beautiful prose literature. The thing that really stopped me in my tracks with reading this book is that it is one stream of consciousness. There are no chapters to this book. Yup, you heard me right – none. One long rambling narrative. The story itself is a truly in-depth look at high school life in the 1980s. I think she did an excellent job at capturing the truth of what it was, but I just wasn’t interested in what happened to these characters. There is very little dialogue and a lot of random twists in turns in the timeline. As cool of an idea this may have started out to be, it just wasn’t the book for me. Thank you Henry Holt for gifting me a copy in exchange for my honest review.
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  • Rebecca
    January 1, 1970
    Thanks to the publisher, Henry Holt, for an advance copy for honest review.I really thought that I was going to absolutely love this one, but, alas, it was just okay for me. I enjoyed the overall premise of the book- the complexities of high school relationships and emotions with the distance of adulthood, the surprise waiting in the second section, the final revelation. It's a bit like a story told in three acts, appropriate for its theatrical setting. There are no chapter breaks within the thr Thanks to the publisher, Henry Holt, for an advance copy for honest review.I really thought that I was going to absolutely love this one, but, alas, it was just okay for me. I enjoyed the overall premise of the book- the complexities of high school relationships and emotions with the distance of adulthood, the surprise waiting in the second section, the final revelation. It's a bit like a story told in three acts, appropriate for its theatrical setting. There are no chapter breaks within the three sections, which worked fine for me in the first and third sections. The middle section was challenging as Karen/"Karen" broke down and the line blurred between the fictional and the truth, with point of view and time seeming vague. A complicated, intricate story.
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  • Lauren
    January 1, 1970
    DNF. Insufferable.
  • Brittany | thebookishfiiasco
    January 1, 1970
    thank you, Henry Holt Books, for providing me with a review copy of this book!.i’ve got to come right out and say this was a really tough read for me. i’m so grateful to have read this as a buddy read, because this one needs some processing as you go..for starters, the main difficulties i had were the stream of consciousness writing style and the believability of the characters. the writing style, for me, was difficult to stay connected to and really absorb. it is different from any other book i thank you, Henry Holt Books, for providing me with a review copy of this book!.i’ve got to come right out and say this was a really tough read for me. i’m so grateful to have read this as a buddy read, because this one needs some processing as you go..for starters, the main difficulties i had were the stream of consciousness writing style and the believability of the characters. the writing style, for me, was difficult to stay connected to and really absorb. it is different from any other book i’ve read in this style, and i wish i could have adapted to it much faster. part of why i felt like i couldn’t was simply because i wasn’t buying the age of the characters and what they were going through. to me, they presented much older, and i just struggled to find their experiences as real..on the upside, when i did feel immersed in the writing, it was beautiful. you can feel that Choi definitely has a way with words and has the power to really sweep you off your feet. the story itself was interesting and nostalgic for me, as it focused a lot on the arts, specifically theater, and it was nice to find some aspects that felt real to my experience..overall, i think if you can get into this style and suspend disbelief about the age of each characters experiences in the beginning, you may enjoy this book. i think ultimately it was just not for me. this kind of tough-to-get-through read always puts me in a slump, so that was really my worry in pushing through the rest of the book..2.5/5 ⭐️
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  • Matt
    January 1, 1970
    I just could not get through this. I made it about halfway and once the story (jarringly) took a major shift in timeline and narrator and things still did not improve on the enjoyment front I abandoned the book. If I hadn’t received an advance copy for reviewing purposes I would have jumped ship earlier. Although I enjoy books set in academia and the author, Susan Choi, clearly demonstrates that she can be clever, Trust Exercise did not hold my interest in the slightest. The plot of Trust Exerci I just could not get through this. I made it about halfway and once the story (jarringly) took a major shift in timeline and narrator and things still did not improve on the enjoyment front I abandoned the book. If I hadn’t received an advance copy for reviewing purposes I would have jumped ship earlier. Although I enjoy books set in academia and the author, Susan Choi, clearly demonstrates that she can be clever, Trust Exercise did not hold my interest in the slightest. The plot of Trust Exercise centers on David and Sarah, two high school drama students at a performing arts high school. It begins in the early 1980s when the two are freshmen and they develop a romantic relationship after an incident during an exercise in their theater class. The first half mostly chronicles this budding relationship in a plodding manner. The prose is dense and complex and Choi opts for style over substance for the most part. David, Sarah, their drama teacher Mr. Kingsley, and most of the other characters come off as tired and cliched and it was hard to get invested in any of them. I don’t have any problems with unlikeable or even detestable characters (I just thoroughly enjoyed Sam Lipsyte’s The Ask and consider myself a pretty big Irvine Welsh fan) but I do have beef with boring characters, and much of the folks populating the universe of Trust Exercise struck me as uninteresting. Pair this with a meandering narrative and you end up with a DNF from me. 2/10
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  • Charlie Smith
    January 1, 1970
    I'm not sure what I thought of this book.I'm not sure WHAT HAPPENED in this book. In its second section, for reasons I cannot fathom, the narrator constantly switches from first to third person. "I sat" becomes in the next sentence "while she was sitting" sort of thing. Why?In the third section, we are meant to figure out how its narrator is related to someone(s?) in sections one and two, one (or both?) of which are re-imaginings of the other, and somehow something essential has been twisted whi I'm not sure what I thought of this book.I'm not sure WHAT HAPPENED in this book. In its second section, for reasons I cannot fathom, the narrator constantly switches from first to third person. "I sat" becomes in the next sentence "while she was sitting" sort of thing. Why?In the third section, we are meant to figure out how its narrator is related to someone(s?) in sections one and two, one (or both?) of which are re-imaginings of the other, and somehow something essential has been twisted which causes fury.And violence. Well, I think that's what caused violence. If, in fact, the violence actually happened.Look, I don't mind having to think and piece together clues to understand a book, nor do I mind having to interpret the author's intentions. But, I DO MIND what comes off as contrivance in the service of an exercise in structure --- as if the book were written NOT because the author was fascinated with the plot, but, rather, the author was fascinated with playing around with techniques.Annoying. For me anyway.
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  • Donna McCaul Thibodeau
    January 1, 1970
    I read 77 pages and then gave up. This book couldn't seem to decide what it wanted to be. Not for me.
  • Sam Glatt
    January 1, 1970
    Thank you to Henry Holt for sending me an ARC of this for an honest review. A PERSON OF INTEREST is my favorite novel of all time, and I was so super excited to see this arrive in the mail.Holy holy holy holy wow. The world is simply not ready for what Susan Choi's new novel is going to do to it. I feel like someone turned my brain into silly putty, stretched it a million different ways, and then put it back together again in a manner that is just close enough to what it once was, but still clea Thank you to Henry Holt for sending me an ARC of this for an honest review. A PERSON OF INTEREST is my favorite novel of all time, and I was so super excited to see this arrive in the mail.Holy holy holy holy wow. The world is simply not ready for what Susan Choi's new novel is going to do to it. I feel like someone turned my brain into silly putty, stretched it a million different ways, and then put it back together again in a manner that is just close enough to what it once was, but still clearly wildly different. Susan Choi completely shatters nearly every rule of writing you could think of with this novel, and then like my now silly putty brain, puts each rule back together again, albeit slightly altered. Trust me; that's a good thing. The less you know about this before reading it, the better your experience with it will be, but I have to say this: there is no way that this novel will not become a new classic. This novel will be talked about, picked apart, analyzed, and discussed for so many different reasons and in so many different ways. And it should be. It is a novel of "right now." It is a novel that speaks directly to nearly all of our current cultural and societal conversations with a simultaneous air of removal and direct confrontation. It is a novel that will challenge your worldview, and partially your sanity. This novel is, in and of itself, its very own trust exercise. Pre-order this now. Prepare your book club in advance. Do not pass GO, do not collect $200 (unless you're using that $200 to pre-order copies for your friends). Seriously, I promise. It's that good. I can't wait until it's all any of us are talking about.
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  • Lolly K Dandeneau
    January 1, 1970
    via my blog: https://bookstalkerblog.wordpress.com/'Their first day, Mr. Kingsley slid into the room like a knife- he had a noiseless and ambushing style of movement- and once they’d fallen silent, which was almost immediately, had cast a look on them that Sarah still saw in the back of her mind.'There isn’t a drama as electric as that between students of the Performing Arts, as is evident based on the characters in this novel. This is 1982, the students attending CAPA (Citywide Academy for the via my blog: https://bookstalkerblog.wordpress.com/'Their first day, Mr. Kingsley slid into the room like a knife- he had a noiseless and ambushing style of movement- and once they’d fallen silent, which was almost immediately, had cast a look on them that Sarah still saw in the back of her mind.'There isn’t a drama as electric as that between students of the Performing Arts, as is evident based on the characters in this novel. This is 1982, the students attending CAPA (Citywide Academy for the Performing Arts) are some of the most talented from all around, there to hone their acting skills under the tutelage of one Mr. Kingsley. Kingsley, a gay man with a husband, a lifestyle most of the class has never been exposed to. They immediately are in awe. The problem is Mr. Kingsley crosses the boundaries by meddling in their personal lives as much as their stage ones. The students all ‘longed to live up to his brilliance and equally feared that it couldn’t be done.’ The teens are not quite children but definitely not adults. Exercises meant to engage the senses beyond sight, plunging them into darkness is a catalyst for David and Sarah to begin a sexual relationship, but as one expects from people not quite mature enough to know how to corral the emotional aftermath, things sour. The coldness seeps in as the students deal with Ego Deconstruction/Reconstruction. Much of the time Kingsley seems to play more at therapist than acting coach, but maybe it’s one and the same.Embrace pain, ‘anguish can be made into music’, learn to be true to your authentic emotions, stand up for yourself. It will all hurt less when you’re older! Learn self-possession, control your ego, ego is wildly useful if you can master it. The problem is Kingsley guides the students to relate their own lives to the ’emotional authenticity’ that acting requires. Teens aren’t ready for that mature honesty, applied in real life situations and why does his ‘intrusion’ outside of school feel like something Sara, for example, welcomes? Then the English People come and Sarah becomes more a theatre (remember, it’s theatre not theater according to him) exile, Mr. Kingsley no longer investing his time, attention nor guidance upon her life. So many of the students manipulate, but they all often seem to be playing parts to fit in or to stand out. Kingsley is the master, using his adult eye upon the lives of his ‘players’. The only authenticity seems to come from Sarah’s confusion and hurt, or does it? There is Karen, dating the much older (and of questionable morality) Martin of the “English People” set, Martin (whom David later admires as his mentor) who has much more of a story in the second half that made me wonder, was I not paying attention enough in the first part of the book? As a reader I felt like I was stretched all over the place and couldn’t fully grasp what the heck was going on. Then something happens to Sarah and no one is there to ‘safeguard her welfare’, no one to chase after her as she both wishes for and fears happening in equal measure. Certainly David isn’t available!Rush to the future, Part Two of the novel and everyone is all grown up. We meet Karen waiting for her old friend ‘the author’. About that author and CAPA alumni, just how much of her story is authentic? How much of the beginning of the novel is true? How much of what we recall with our memory about our own tortured youth is genuine? Honestly, I still don’t know. I think I lost the plot by the second half and end. Just when I think I grasp things, Choi changes direction and I am still not sure what this novel is about.There is intelligent observations about emotions, youth, relationships but I think the novel just wasn’t straight forward enough for me to be fully engaged. I have to feel a little less dizzied by the characters, I think I drifted away too often. It was good but I didn’t really care enough about the characters. However, there is very clever writing within, this is a heck of a line, “Maybe it was unfair of Karen to see Sarah and David as twin narcissists, each fixated on the other’s ancient image and seeing in that hapless teenage lover some lost part of themselves they still wanted back.” Wow! I need to read a different book by Susan Choi, because she possess a keen intelligence, it just didn’t work for me here.Publication Date: April 9, 2019Henry Holt & Company
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  • Valerie
    January 1, 1970
    It has taken me a while to figure out what to rate this book, which I received in a Goodreads give-away. I enjoyed reading the book, but I didn't love it. I appreciated the unconventional structure but it didn't completely work for me. Instead of pulling me further into the story it jolted me out of it. It's a good story and an interesting story, but it didn't quite work. This is my least favorite of the three Choi books I've read. It would, however, probably make for good conversation in a clas It has taken me a while to figure out what to rate this book, which I received in a Goodreads give-away. I enjoyed reading the book, but I didn't love it. I appreciated the unconventional structure but it didn't completely work for me. Instead of pulling me further into the story it jolted me out of it. It's a good story and an interesting story, but it didn't quite work. This is my least favorite of the three Choi books I've read. It would, however, probably make for good conversation in a class about creative writing.I did really enjoy the references to Houston. Though the book is set in the creative arts high school of an unnamed Southern suburb, it is clear that Choi has drawn heavily from Houston. Anyone who has spent a lot of time in the city will enjoy recognizing the sights and scenes.
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  • Lillian Li
    January 1, 1970
    If you aren’t already a fan of Choi's psychological mastery, intricate sentences, and acerbic wit, you will be after this book! Divided into three parts, Choi's novel takes us on a breakneck journey through the adolescent swamp of CAPA, a performing arts high school somewhere in the South, where teenagers put on the trappings of adulthood on and off the stage. Whether their childhood is shrugged off or stripped off, the protagonists of Choi's structure-bending book are inextricably pinned to the If you aren’t already a fan of Choi's psychological mastery, intricate sentences, and acerbic wit, you will be after this book! Divided into three parts, Choi's novel takes us on a breakneck journey through the adolescent swamp of CAPA, a performing arts high school somewhere in the South, where teenagers put on the trappings of adulthood on and off the stage. Whether their childhood is shrugged off or stripped off, the protagonists of Choi's structure-bending book are inextricably pinned to their past at CAPA, burnishing the site in their art and their obsessions. The end left me shattered, in awe of where Choi left me, and also inconsolable. A tremendous novel about power, innocence, intimacy, performance, and, yes, trust.Make sure you read until at least Part Two before thinking you know what this book is about!
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