Originally published December 2019
Susan Choi’s National Book Award winner, “Trust Exercise” is a tour-de-force reminder that, if not for everyone, for a lot of people, high school is both formative and damaging in ways from which people never recover.
Or even move forward.
How often does your mind wander back? Reading Choi’s book-within-a-book, I couldn’t help but pause for some self-reflection on how those four years helped to shape the person I am today. Such is the plotline that develops for Sarah, Karen, David, Mr. Kingsley, Martin, Liam and the class at CAPA — a magnet high school for the arts and the center of existence in Sarah’s fictionalized retelling of her high school years.
It’s impossible for me to break down this story without risking giving too much away. Sarah and David’s relationship is the stuff of high school lore. And Choi’s command of the high school experience — the ups and downs of social standing, of lusting for independence as much as lusting for inclusion and acceptance, of melodramatic turns and the conviction that no one really understands you — it’s just incredibly on point.
David’s inability to let the past go, Karen’s determination for justifiable retribution and Sarah’s attempts to honor and exorcise the past are sure to resonate with anyone whose high school years were less than wonderful. And let’s be honest. Even the best high school experience leaves a few scars. When I think back, I naturally trend to the nostalgic and not the upsetting, if for no other reason than honestly, my time in those hallways was fairly uneventful. Alas, this is not the case for these characters, for whom their time at CAPA was life-altering.
Trust Exercise is so incredibly well-written and perfectly paced that I could not stop reading once I had a chunk of time to sit. I was compelled to love these characters for their talents and their flaws and I couldn’t help but want to crawl into the book to save Sarah from her teenaged self or to slap David out of his drunken reverie. The novel is a well-deserved award winner and makes for an outstanding book club pick, if for nothing more than to dissect the high school experience.
Get this book and make a date with the couch.