cover image Admissions: A Memoir of Surviving Boarding School

Admissions: A Memoir of Surviving Boarding School

Kendra James. Grand Central, $29 (304p) ISBN 978-1-5387-5348-4

In this scintillating debut, former Shondaland editor James intertwines her own coming-of-age story with a searing indictment of elite academia. “To be Black in a New England boarding school,” she writes, “is to be touted for your statistical presence... and ignored everywhere else.” The first Black American legacy to graduate from Taft School in 2006, James recounts her rude awakening when the “freedom and independence” she was promised as a student turned out to be the opposite. Taft, she recalls, was a school both uniquely attuned to and openly hostile to her development and that of other “expert, if involuntary, pioneers” who were forced to navigate the constraints of an institution that catered to its “white majority.” Notably, she recalls an unfounded accusation of theft by a classmate, that—after being threatened with police intervention—James was pressured to confess to. Despite the challenges she faced, James reflects on the paradoxical sense of safety she felt as a “Talented-Tenth-respectability-obsessed-snob” and how, after graduating, she worked as an independent school admissions counselor peddling the “myths of American upward mobility” to low-income families, before finally confronting her trauma and speaking out about the pervasive racism in boarding schools. The result is an eye-opening examination of race, class, and privilege in America. Agent: Jane von Mehren, Aevitas Creative Management. (Jan.)