All Girls

Emily Layden. St. Martin’s, $27.99 (320p) ISBN 978-1-250-27089-4
Layden’s incisive debut offers a composite portrait of an exclusive girls’ boarding school on the cusp of a long-overdue reckoning with a sexual abuser on the faculty. The novel opens as an incoming first-year student arrives at the Atwater School in fall 2015, and her parents are troubled upon observing a series of signs reading “A Rapist Works Here” posted along the route to the campus. Subsequent chapters are structured around the defining traditions of an Atwater year, from initiation and fall fest to prom and commencement, and each one introduces at least two or three different students. The identity of the teacher who preyed on a student nearly 20 years earlier, prompting the poster campaign and other acts of protest, is eventually revealed, along with the identity of the current student bent on unmasking him. While the short narratives don’t really give the reader sufficient time to get to know the characters, they coalesce into an overview of the school’s culture, as the students begin to question the official word on the allegations. Notably, the novel is set just before #MeToo, creating an astute snapshot of a venerable institution being pulled, however unwillingly, into its future. Layden succeeds at bringing the effects of an institutional cover-up into sharp relief. Agent: Lisa Grubka, Fletcher & Company (Feb.)
Reviewed on : 10/22/2020
Release date: 02/16/2021
Genre: Fiction
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