cover image Hothouse Kids: The Dilemma of the Gifted Child

Hothouse Kids: The Dilemma of the Gifted Child

Alissa Quart, . . Penguin Press, $24.95 (260pp) ISBN 978-1-59420-095-3

Quart's follow-up to Branded shifts her focus from rapacious companies to parents, whose obsession with "creating" or "nurturing" giftedness, she argues, has led to a full-blown transformation of middle-class childhood into aggressive skill-set pageantry. While Quart wonderfully details the daily grinds of genuine prodigies (in everything from violin to preaching to entrepreneurship), the real force of the book is in showing how gifted childhood—relentlessly tested, totally overscheduled and joylessly competitive—is being created by striving parents of all stripes; such "enrichment" not only doesn't necessarily work, it can be harmful. A chapter titled "The Icarus Effect" presents child-prodigies as worn, depressed adults; "Extreme Parenting" and "Child Play or Child Labor?" show the bizarre (and often profit-based) forms prodigy-mongering is taking: "Phoenix has started her own knitwear business," one parent crows, "and though she is only 12, she can do it." Probing interviews (the kids are brilliant, robotic, frenetic, forlorn and every shade in between) are matched with educational and psychological data, with beautiful cultural riffs (particularly linking mathletes and Wall Street) and deep engagement: a former gifted kid herself, Quart interviews, interprets and assesses with a sympathy for her subjects and their caregivers that is emotionally profound. She turns in a remarkably evenhanded analysis and argues for "multiple intelligences" and enrichment for "strong learners" in public schools. Quart's second book is first-class literary journalism. (Aug.)