“The Overachievers” is part soap opera, part social treatise. Robbins identifies her main characters — four juniors, three seniors and one alum who’s a college freshman — by how they’re perceived at Whitman. Then she stands back and lets them prove otherwise. Julie, the Superstar, is so plagued by self-doubt that she worries she will be voted “Most Awkward” by her senior classmates. Sam, the Teacher’s Pet, runs out of time to find and interview a Muslim for an assignment in his Modern World class, so he makes one up and writes a fake transcript of their conversation. And A.P. Frank, who took a grueling all-Advanced Placement course load his junior and senior years of high school, wants nothing more than a decent social life when he gets to college. I was so hooked on their stories that I wanted to vote for my favorite contestant at the end of every chapter.
The book is less effective when Robbins leaves Whitman to gather supporting anecdotes from students in other parts of the country. After a while the kids at New Trier High School in Winnetka, Ill., sound like the kids in Kentucky, who sound like the kids in Vermont, who sound like the kids in New Mexico. There’s also a detour into the cutthroat world of private schools in Manhattan that would have worked better as the seed for another book. Nice coup, sitting in on interviews and admission decisions at the Trinity School, but can we please get back to Bethesda?
Tattered Cover Link: The Overachievers by Alexandra Robbins.