cover image His Favorites

His Favorites

Kate Walbert. Scribner, $22 (160p) ISBN 978-1-4767-9939-1

Walbert (A Short History of Women) compresses into this taut, powerful novel one woman’s painful recollection of her sexual relationship at age 15 with her 34-year-old high school English teacher. The summer before her sophomore year in 1978, Jo Hadley overturns a golf cart during a late-night drunken joyride, accidentally killing her best friend. Haunted by guilt and a pariah in her hometown, Jo is sent to a private school outside Boston, where Jo’s first roommate promptly leaves school following a bullying incident. Jo’s time at the school is complicated when she attracts the attention of popular English instructor Master Aikens. As one of Master’s favorites, Jo experiences one-on-one mentoring, encouragement, cruelty, plus sex in Jo’s dorm room and Master’s home and car. Jo informs a school administrator, who questions her credibility and admonishes her, insinuating such accusations damage her future prospects. Jo narrates with brutal honesty, using declarative sentences (Master’s preferred style). Her story, filled with rage and regret and intensified by its searing portrait of self-aware, self-destructive teenage girls, provides a case history in male-female relationships built on imbalance of power. Agent: Eric Simonoff, WME Entertainment. (Aug.)