cover image Prodigy


Dave Kalstein, . . St. Martin's/Dunne, $23.95 (322pp) ISBN 978-0-312-34096-4

The Stansbury School's class of 2036—"flagship editions of youth"—are "bred... for top-of-the-line performance," poised to matriculate at the best colleges and destined to dominate the private and public sectors. After a 12-year regimen of chemical enhancement, conditioning and ideology inside Stansbury's high-rise virtual prison, in the megalopolis of San Angeles, these co-ed high school students, known as "specimens" in Kalstein's cautionary debut, emerge a master race of ninja-assassin geniuses: unnaturally tall, lethal and intelligent—at the cost of imagination and individualism. The story hinges on two students, both full-ride scholarship orphans, who form an unlikely partnership after six recent Stansbury graduates are murdered. Valedictorian Thomas Oliver Goldsmith has put his "blue collar work ethic and indomitable will" behind Stansbury's mission, while Winston Cooley, a rebellious malcontent, refuses to swallow the mandated drugs or the school's supposedly high-minded ideals. When Cooley unwittingly ends up at the scene of an alum's murder, the school's administration puts Goldsmith on the case. For Stansbury, the scandal could jeopardize the school's chances to receive a $1 trillion-a-year research grant from the government. For Cooley, his very freedom is at stake. Kalstein's action-packed comment on the price of "progress," the absurdity of hypercompetitive education and the myth of meritocracy hurtles to a satisfying if predictable conclusion. (Jan.)