With two high-achieving parents and three winning, attractive kids, the Hawthornes seem to be a picture-perfect family in their prime, but as art-lovers know, group portraits can be deceiving. Meg Mitchell Moore's The Admissions gets to the core of this northern California brood by offering close-ups of each of its members in crisis. Readers will have their favorites; some empathizing with mom Nora, who juggles a busy professional life with the responsibilities of parenthood; others will identify with 17-year-old Angela, a high school senior who yearns for both early Harvard admission and a cute athlete in her English class. A crafty ensemble novel; editor's recommendation.
The Admissionsby Meg Mitchell Moore
The Hawthorne family has it all. Great jobs, a beautiful house in one of the most affluent areas of Northern California, and three charming kids/b>/i>
The Admissions brilliantly captures the frazzled pressure cooker of modern life as a seemingly perfect family comes undone by a few desperate measures, long-buried secret —and college applications!
The Hawthorne family has it all. Great jobs, a beautiful house in one of the most affluent areas of Northern California, and three charming kids whose sunny futures are all but assured. And then comes their eldest daughter’s senior year of high school . . .
Firstborn Angela Hawthorne is a straight-A student and star athlete, with extracurricular activities coming out of her ears and a college application that’s not going to write itself. She’s set her sights on Harvard, her father’s alma mater, and like a dog with a chew toy, Angela won’t let up until she’s basking in crimson-colored glory. Except her class rank as valedictorian is under attack, she’s suddenly losing her edge at cross-country, and she can’t help but daydream about a cute baseball player. Of course Angela knows the time put into her schoolgirl crush would be better spent coming up with a subject for her English term paper—which, along with her college essay, has a rapidly approaching deadline.
Angela’s mother, Nora, is similarly stretched to the limit, juggling parent-teacher meetings, carpool, and a real estate career where she caters to the mega-rich and super-picky buyers and sellers of the Bay Area. The youngest daughter, second-grader Maya, still can’t read; the middle child, Cecily, is no longer the happy-go-lucky kid she once was; and their dad, Gabe, seems oblivious to the mounting pressures at home because a devastating secret of his own might be exposed. A few ill-advised moves put the Hawthorne family on a collision course that’s equal parts achingly real and delightfully screwball—and they learn that whatever it cost to get their lucky lives it may cost far more to keep them.
Sharp, topical, and wildly entertaining, The Admissions shows that if you pull at a loose thread, even the sturdiest lives start to unravel at the seams of high achievement.
Moore's stellar follow-up to So Far Away concerns the beleaguered Hawthorne family, whose eldest daughter, Angela, is furiously working to get into Harvard, her father, Gabe's, alma mater. Like her anxious mother Nora, a type-A real estate agent, Angela's determination never flags. She's been gunning for a spot at Harvard ever since Gabe put her in a sweatshirt with its logo when she was a toddler. Her insurmountable workload leads her to begin abusing stimulants and start contemplating devious ways to remain valedictorian. Moore's title is a play on words, as Nora and Gabe also harbor secrets. Workaholic Nora is convinced that an old accident brought on by her job-focused carelessness is why youngest child, seven-year-old Maya, now can't read. Meanwhile, an ambitious intern threatens to air Gabe's dirty laundry unless he pulls some strings for her. Pressure to sell an overpriced home and a possible lawsuit consume Nora as Angela begins to feel the deleterious effects of her stressful life. Moore successfully conveys how the quest for excellence spares no one in this industrious clan: even cheerful middle child, Cecily, loses her sense of self after a mistake costs her dance team. This is a page-turner as well as an insightful character study. (Aug.)
-- Elin Hilderbrand, New York Times bestselling author of The Rumor
“The Admissions is a smart, hilarious, compelling novel about college applications, suburban scandals, and risky secrets. I couldn’t stop reading about the Hawthorne’s—a picture perfect family who will “keep up with the Joneses” until they burst.”
-- Jennifer Close, New York Times bestselling author of Girls in White Dresses
"The Admissions is a realistic account of the pressures facing a family that is determined to have it all. At turns funny, touching and wise, it is a sharply observed cautionary tale about the high price of keeping secrets – even ones meant to protect them -- from loved ones. It is also a riotous account of the day-to-day pressures of upscale, aspirant modern life."
-- The Examiner
"There's plenty of drama--and a surprising amount of comedy--in the convergence of events that exposes all of the family secrets. But while Moore lets her characters unravel, she doesn't leave them in pieces."
-- Shelf Awareness
"[A] terrific novel...Her background as a journalist lends a crisp deftness to her delightful writing style, and engages the reader immediately in this engrossing tale about a modern family struggling to have it all — and the consequences when the struggle is just too much to bear..."
-- The Free Lance Star
“The Admissions proves that no cookie-cutter family is as perfect as they seem...incredible character insight”
"Stellar...This is a page turner as well as an insightful character study."
-- Publishers Weekly
"In The Admissions, Meg Mitchell Moore reminds us that even when things seem perfect, there’s always more going on behind the scenes.... Equal parts delightful and devastating, The Admissions is a cautionary tale about trying too hard to stay on top."
"[Meg Mitchell Moore's] unique voice and unflinching yet sympathetic perspective combine to create a story that is fresh and unexpectedly entertaining. Moore presents her characters in all their flawed glory and lovable short-sighted determination, spinning out the story of one family’s collapse and rebirth with energy and wit. Part thought-provoking commentary, part zany satire on the definition of success and the choices some are willing to make to achieve it, this is a book that is sure to earn a good deal of attention."
-- RT Book Reviews
"When a high school senior is vying for Harvard, her whole family sizzles in the pressure cooker and schadenfreude (good SAT word) runs amuck. Meg Mitchell Moore takes aim at the emotional mayhem of an upscale West Coast family who wants the American dream writ large. This novel is achingly real and delightfully cheeky."
-- Sally Koslow, author of The Widow Waltz and Slouching Toward Adulthood
"A wonderfully complex and relatable portrait of a family and the secrets they keep to protect each other and themselves. When the truth threatens, you'll turn pages faster than ever."
-- Charity Shumway, author of Ten Girls to Watch
“An important subject has its novel: Meg Mitchell Moore’s The Admissions is an engaging, droll and spot-on study of what happens when aspirations become obsessions, when integrity and good sense bend to the allure of preferred outcomes. The familiar compulsions and desperations, the anxieties and delusions, the insecurities and hubris, the elaborate schemes and flat-out dumb choices of a college applicant and her parents hellbent on affirmation in the form of a golden acceptance letter are rendered here with an adroit, knowing and sympathetic hand.”
-- David McCullough Jr., author of the international bestseller You Are Not Special
"Meg Mitchell Moore is a tremendously talented storyteller. Brimming with humor and warmth,The Admissions introduces readers to a family so insightfully drawn and deliciously flawed that it will remain with you long after you reach the final page. This is a story that feels both uniquely Californian and entirely American--aspiration, desire, spectacular failure, and heartwarming success abound. I loved it!"
-- Meg Donohue, USA Today bestselling author of Dog Crazy and All the Summer Girls
“With her razor sharp wit and stirringly keen insights, Meg Mitchell Moore digs deep into the zeitgeist of a modern family desperate to keep their heads above water. Add in long-hidden secrets, cutthroat college admissions, and revolving perspectives and you have an undeniably addictive read.”
--Emily Liebert, author of When We Fall
The members of a high-achieving Marin County family face their fears: applying to college, blowing a deal, revealing their secrets. It's a tense year for the Hawthornes. Nora, a real estate agent, is trying to get past a dry spell by finding a buyer for the Watkins house, which the current owners insist on pricing slightly too high at $8.8 million. Gabe, a consultant, is trying to avoid his firm's overconfident new intern, who seems to think she has something on him. (Spoiler alert: she does, and it won't take long to figure out what it is.) Oldest daughter Angela, the class valedictorian, is applying to college—one college only: her father's alma mater, Harvard—and popping pills to keep up with her homework and extracurricular commitments. Middle daughter Cecily has always been the happy child, excelling at the offbeat activity of Irish dance, but something seems to be troubling her. And youngest daughter Maya, who's in second grade, still doesn't know how to read; Nora secretly worries that it's her fault, since Maya fell on her head as a baby while her mother was busy on a work call. Each chapter is told from a different character's viewpoint, but perhaps because women like Nora are the book's target audience, it's she who really comes alive—and it's her tension that permeates the book. Nora's brain is always running through to-do lists, and her anxiety is contagious. Not pleasant anxiety, the kind you feel when you're reading a Stephen King novel. The unpleasant kind you feel in your own life when you have too much to do and too little time to get it done. She spends two pages, on and off, thinking about the dishwasher—how it's still running, how she could have hand-washed the dishes faster, how she finally unloaded it. Moore (So Far Away, 2012, etc.,) has an excellent eye for the minutiae of upper-middle-class life, but it gets exhausting immersing yourself in another family's worries on top of your own. Moore's readers may find this book cuts a little too close to home.
- Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
- Publication date:
- Product dimensions:
- 9.30(w) x 6.30(h) x 1.40(d)
Read an Excerpt
Nora was trying not to worry. But she’d been a mother for nearly eighteen years now. She was going to worry.
It was a beautiful early-winter day in the Bay Area, which meant that it was sixty-five degrees and sunny, or would be until the fog rolled in later in the afternoon. No need for so much as a mitten. Christmas was nine days away.
She was reaching for her cell when the home phone rang.
Nobody ever called the home number. She’d threatened to have it disconnected so many times that it was now a standing joke in the Hawthorne family. Because she never had time to do anything she threatened to do, until now.
Yes. Her hand shaking as she cradled the receiver. A man’s voice, unfamiliar.
Nora hadn’t thought her heart could climb any farther up her throat than it had in recent weeks. But it could, it turned out, it could.
When Nora and her sister, Marianne, were young, growing up in Narragansett, Rhode Island, they used to play a game. One of them would say to the other: A genie grants you three wishes. What would you wish for?
They would say things like: I wish all the appliances in the house would turn to chocolate. Or: I wish I could have the gift of flight for twenty-four hours. Or: I wish we had pizza for dinner every night for three weeks. When they got older, they might say: I wish Jennifer Johnson would get a really bad perm that lasted for the rest of the school year. Or: I wish my breasts would grow (Nora) or stop growing (Marianne).
My name is Sergeant Stephen Campbell, California State Highway Patrol.
Stephen. Such an ordinary name, Nora would think later, for such an extraordinary phone call.
Three wishes, Genie, rapid-fire.
One. Say what you have to say, quickly.
Two. Tell me it’s going to be okay.
Three. Let me go back to the beginning and start over.
Mrs. Hawthorne. I’m in the security office at the Golden Gate Bridge.
Do you know how to get here, Mrs. Hawthorne?
She couldn’t say another thing. The room was whirling. She sat down on one of the kitchen stools.
Listen carefully, please. I’m going to tell you how to get here, and I want you to come right away. Do you understand me? We’re on the south side of the bridge. From where you are you have to cross the bridge to get to us.
She swallowed, tried to breathe. She watched a hand that didn’t seem like hers grasp at the edge of the counter. She watched the fingers try and fail to grip the edge. There was a sharp sound all around her, a high-pitched noise three octaves beyond glass breaking.
Mmmmmmph. The only sound she could manage.
Later Nora would figure that it all started with her job. If she hadn’t been a working mother. If the situation with the Watkins home hadn’t happened, and then the horror show at the Millers’ house. If she’d been more available, more aware. If she’d been better. If if if.
Three months earlier . . .
In the front of the house the rest of the family went about their business. It was early September, a shade past Labor Day. If Angela Hawthorne had to put the situation into words that her AP English teacher, Ms. Simmons, would appreciate, she might say that the moon was picking its way across the sky. The school year was still a virgin: barely touched, unsullied.
Above Angela’s desk, tacked to the colossal bulletin board, was a calendar. Circled with a red marker snatched from Maya’s room (seven-year-olds had a lot of markers) was the date. November first, fewer than eight weeks away. Her mother had added the rest for Angela with a black ballpoint in her neat, Catholic-girl-school hand, using exactly the words on the website: deadline for all early-action application materials.
Eight weeks. Seven and a half, really. So much to do. Five AP classes this year: European History. English Literature and Composition. Chemistry. Statistics. Studio Art. (“Studio Art can be an AP class?” her father had asked. “That seems bogus.” Angela, in tacit agreement, said nothing.)
The battle for class rank was a bloody one. Its victims were laid out all across the campus of Oakville High and across much of Marin County. Figuratively, of course. Ms. Simmons might appreciate that metaphor. Sammy Marshall, felled by an ill-timed bout of mono the previous spring. (“Not his fault,” said Angela’s mother. “The poor thing.” Was she smiling when she said that?) Porter Webb, the school’s foremost scholar-athlete, already being scouted by the minors. Lots of time on the baseball diamond. (“Too much athlete, not enough scholar,” said Angela’s father ruefully, though it seemed to Angela that part of the rue was manufactured.)
At the moment Angela was first. Valedictorian. But the wolves were nipping at her heels. (Did this count as a cliché?)
The wolves were snapping at her feet. Better? Better.
One of the wolves was Maria Ortiz, poetess extraordinaire, already published in several journals, only some of them obscure, fluent in four languages. (Angela’s father: “Technically, are we counting the Spanish as a foreign language? Because she did grow up speaking it at home . . .”) Henrietta Faulkner (no relation, though if you didn’t ask, Henrietta didn’t offer), Angela’s erstwhile best friend. Erstwhile. SAT word.
Angela, are the class rankings out yet?
Ask Angela. Angela will know the answer. Angela knows everything. Angela, did you do your homework?
Angela, did you practice?
And already, in the first week of school, a paper due in AP English Lit, as though the two novels Angela read in August for summer course work weren’t enough. It didn’t seem fair. “But I also have to say, for the umpty-umpth time, that life isn’t fair. It’s just fairer than death, that’s all,” said Cecily over dinner—an aphorism she’d picked up from The Princess Bride, which she’d spent countless hours of the summer watching with her best friend, Pinkie. At ten years old, Cecily and Pinkie seemed to have an unlimited supply of leisure time with which to watch movies and ride scooters and twist each other’s hair into unnatural shapes to see how long they held.
Where was Angela’s leisure time? Gone, vanished. Taken from her in the night by an invisible thief. Wait, a thief couldn’t actually be invisible.
Stolen in the night by an unknown assailant. Corny. Overwritten. And assailants didn’t necessarily steal, they might just attack.
Purloined. Better. Simple and elegant. SAT word.
Or, more likely, if memory served, Angela’s free time had never truly existed. Perhaps, eons ago, when she was an infant, reclining in the Moses basket that her mother kept in the attic, the only remaining relic of Angela’s and Cecily’s and Maya’s babyhoods. Maybe then Angela had had leisure time, though a foggy memory persisted of a swinging ball of red and black and white, something she was meant to study and perhaps learn from. “I’m saving it,” said Angela’s mother (about the Moses basket). “For one of you. For when you have your own.” And Angela nodded, absorbing this sentiment, while in truth she couldn’t imagine ever marrying or becoming a mother. Where, on earth, would she find the time?
They were expected to read all of Beloved and write a paper on its central theme. By tomorrow. Angela hadn’t begun the book yet, never mind the paper. Cross-country practice after school, the first meet only two weeks away, six-by-one-mile repeats through the woods and over the river.
Over the river and through the woods, to grandmother’s house . . . Angela’s only living grandmother was her mother’s mother; she lived in Rhode Island, nowhere accessible by horse-drawn sleigh. (Was anywhere?) Eight thirty. The fatigue was pulling at her eyelids. (Good? The fatigue was like a blanket . . . No. Too much. Pulling at the eyelids was better.) Again Angela looked at the calendar: November first. Not so long now, not so long.
She never had before, hadn’t wanted to, hadn’t needed to, though she kept them at the ready. They all did—for emergencies, or not, as the case may be. Angela had gotten hers from Henrietta Faulkner, who had gotten them God-knows-where. A harmless little study aid, no big deal. A few of them secreted inside an Advil bottle, the bottle tucked inside her desk drawer, behind the pencil sharpener, the old iPod, no longer working, long since replaced, the odd collection of shoelaces.
Angela pulled out the bottle and shook the capsule out into her hand. Five milligrams, not so much. Other kids used more. Lots more. Five was nothing, a baby dose. A warm-up, an appetizer.
She reached for the glass of water at the edge of her desk. Hydration was super-important after a workout like the one they’d had today. Were the varsity cross-country teams at Novato and Redwood and all across the county working as hard as they were, as hard as the mighty Warriors? It was difficult to say. They would find out when they went head to head in November, at the regional meet. Foot to foot.
She lifted the glass, drank. The capsule was so small she scarcely noticed it going down. It was a blip, a hiccup.
She waited. Nothing. She waited some more. And more. And longer. There it was. Her head cleared. It all faded to the background: the
screech-scritch of Cecily’s bow across the strings (“Practice makes perfect,” Cecily said cheerfully, though there was little evidence that Angela could find to confirm the veracity of that statement, at least in Cecily’s case. Although those same words had been repeated to Angela ad nauseam for the past seventeen years), the sounds of the television, the neighbor’s dog barking at the back door to be let in or out.
There it was. Tunnel focus, that’s what they called it. And for good reason. Angela Hawthorne, valedictorian, was staring down a tunnel, no stopping, no sleep until Cambridge.
You get there, and then you can rest. Then you can rest.
But not yet, not now. Now she would work until it was done, and then she would sleep under a crimson moon.
Do you know I thought about seeing a therapist? There: I said it. I haven’t told a single soul, not even Gabe. Don’t tell Mom, okay? Seriously.
I was going to go because of stress and sleeplessness. I thought, what have I got to lose?
I looked into it, and I even wrote down some numbers and checked with my insurance. Which didn’t cover any of it, of course. Though Elpis is ridiculously proud of its insurance. And then I looked at my schedule, and I thought: Ha. When? It turned out that what I had to lose was time I don’t have.
I changed my mind. I didn’t call. I decided you can be my therapist instead. So pardon, in advance, the long emails.
Insomnia is new to me, and on the one hand upsetting, but on the other hand I’m finding that I can really be productive when I put my mind to it. Just before I began this email to you I sent three requests for prices for the booths for the Spring Fling for the elementary school. I got the booth job again, ha, look at that, the first time I typed “booth” it autocorrected to “boob.” ( I wish.) I drafted some language for the ad for my next open house and I made a list of all the appointments everyone in the house needs in the next six months: teeth, flu shots, general physicals, etc. Maya needs to see an ophthalmologist even though she’s only seven. Cecily has to go to the orthodontist. I need a mammogram. For healthy people, Marianne, we’re alarmingly busy just taking care of our bodies.
Lucky you, Dr. Sister! You’re hired, and you never even applied for the job.
Two showings in Sausalito went late, but then one in Belvedere was canceled, so Nora arrived home not so long after she’d told the sitter, Maddie, she’d be there. Unfortunately, the showing that was canceled was the only one Nora wanted not to be canceled: the Watkins property, which had been a thorn in Nora’s side all summer—a thorn that showed no signs of being removed. The property was priced too high, in Nora’s opinion. But the sellers were firm, and they were difficult, and because they wouldn’t budge Nora knew that all sorts of potential buyers were walking right by and not asking for a showing.
You wouldn’t think, maybe, that two girls with a seventeen-year-old sister would need an after-school babysitter, but not only was Angela supremely busy every day after school but so were her friends and the friends of her friends. They had glee club and band practice and varsity sports. They had recycling club (true story) and Best Buddies (partnering up with kids with disabilities) and French Club or Spanish Club, or sometimes both, and if they weren’t acting in the school plays they were directing them or painting scenery for them or sewing costumes for them. They were preparing for Mock Trial or Speech and Debate; they were applying to be pages at the state General Assembly. They were organizing their twenty-five hours of community service for the National Honor Society. And when they weren’t doing all of that, they were doing homework, homework, homework.
All of the high school students Nora knew were so busy, in fact, that when Nora had gone back to work two years ago she’d had to cast the net far and wide to find someone to shuffle Cecily from school and to her Irish dancing lessons and back home after. Maya, in second grade, traveled along for the rides like a barnacle tucked into a car seat.
Currently Nora shelled out twenty dollars an hour to a USF junior from Wisconsin named Maddie who spent most of the afternoon on her iPhone.
The first thing Nora did when she arrived home was to open the shutters. Maddie had an unfortunate habit of closing them against the afternoon light; she claimed some sort of diagnosed sun sensitivity but Nora suspected (and Cecily confirmed) that the problem was actually that the light made it more difficult to see the screen of her iPhone or iPad. When Nora had time (unlikely) she was going to look into finding Maddie’s replacement, someone who would read with or to Maya, maybe take her through some of the classics Nora had loved when she was young, the irrepressible Anne of Green Gables fame. Betsy, Tacy, and Tib. Nora had been an avid reader of the Betsy-Tacy books as a child; when Angela was in kindergarten Nora had trotted out her dog-eared, licorice-stained copies and read them to her. Angela easily could have read them to herself, of course, she could practically take herself through Tolstoy at that age, but Nora loved spending all that extra time in Deep Valley, Minnesota, in the early nineteen hundreds. She had neglected to do the same for Cecily, and probably by now Cecily had outgrown the books. But Maya still loved to cuddle, still loved to be read to. Plus she couldn’t read to herself. Don’t think about that now, Nora. Her private rule (never enforced): one worry at a time. Okay, that was impossible. One major worry at a time.
The afternoon light flooded the living room. The shutters were partly a reaction to Nora’s growing up in a house where curtains reigned supreme: in the bathroom, curtains with yellow and pink flowers; in the kitchen, red-and-white-checked country curtains; and in hers and Marianne’s room, curtains depicting little flying fairies—these remained far too long, until Nora went off to the University of Rhode Island at age eighteen. When they’d bought this house Nora had had plantation shutters installed, not because she liked them—though in fact she did—but because they were neutral and expensive and generally acceptable and because Nora, as much as she professed not to be, was just as influenced as the next guy by that ultimate driver, that unseen hand: resale value.
“Mom!” said Cecily, propelling herself toward Nora and then wrapping her skinny arms around Nora’s waist. Cecily ate and ate, she ate everything in sight, and still she retained the half-starved look of an old-fashioned orphan: pointy elbows, hollow cheekbones. She didn’t care. She did a bit where she sucked her stomach in as far as it would go and put each and every rib on display, offering them for counting. (“Wait until she hits puberty,” said Angela darkly. “I used to be skinny too.” Angela, at 108 pounds, barely registered on the digital precision pet scale Nora had purchased from Frontgate when Frankie, their beloved, deceased Newfoundland, had flirted with an overeating problem.)
“Where’s Maya?” asked Nora.
“Playdate,” said Maddie. “Penelope’s. I texted you.”
“Right.” For a fraction of an instant Nora allowed herself to plant her face in Cecily’s hair, which smelled like strawberry shampoo, and to drink in her unadulterated affection.
“Ava broke her toe and can’t dance and my hard shoes got too small over the summer and I need new ones before the feis, which means they won’t be broken in but look I got that last part of my solo perfectly, you have to see this, I don’t have any music but just watch.”
Maddie roused herself from the couch, more slowly than Nora thought was necessary for a twenty-year-old. Nora tried not to think about how much she was paying Maddie. She tried not to think about the fact that the Watkins listing was due to expire in November and that, when it did, Mr. and Mrs. Watkins were going to take the home off the market for the holiday season and list it in the new year with a different agency. (Arthur Sutton, her boss, did not know this, and it was Nora’s mission in life to sell the home before he found out.) She tried not to think about the fact that she didn’t have ingredients for dinner, and the fact that she should have picked Maya up at Penelope’s on the way home, and she tried not to think about the three loads of laundry waiting for her, which she had forgotten to mention to Maddie and which, if she had, Maddie would have ignored anyway.
For now, she and Maddie stood in solidarity, watching Cecily dance. Cecily was a gorgeous dancer, absolutely gorgeous, and Nora took a moment to appreciate this, that this child who had come from her, from Nora (a woman who possessed no musicality, no dance talent, a woman who could not even learn the Electric Slide properly when it was being played at everyone’s weddings), had become this magnificent creature with long, lean leg muscles and a smile that could break your heart. Nora allowed herself to be transported to the Old Country, home of her ancestors; she imagined standing on a hilltop one hundred years ago or in a darkened pub on a Sunday afternoon, where she sipped from a pint of stout while a musical trio in the corner struck up a tune.
“Beautiful, Cecily,” she said, when Cecily had finished dancing and given the requisite toe-point-out bow, and that smile, that smile that the judges ate right up. Very few girls smiled at the Irish dance competitions. They were too busy girding themselves against vomiting onstage, a phenomenon of nerves that was, unfortunately, more common than you might think. “I would totally give you a first,” said Nora. Then, in a poor imitation of Cecily’s dance instructor, Seamus O’Malley, she offered up an Irish-accented “Well done, lass.” Cecily rolled her eyes, but in a good-natured way that Nora appreciated. Nora knew, having been through it once before, that the good-naturedness departed around age twelve or thirteen and returned—when? She didn’t know. She hadn’t found out yet. Nora paused. Deep breath. “Where’s Her Majesty?” she asked.
Cecily shrugged. “Not home from cross-country practice yet, I guess. Haven’t seen her.”
Just then the front door opened to reveal a sweat-soaked girl wearing running shorts and a crimson T-shirt that said HARVARD across it in proud silver letters. Angela had her sights set on her father’s alma mater, and had fixed them there long ago and never wavered. (Though it was hard to say, sometimes, if Angela had set them there or if Gabe had set them there for her.)
Angela must have run home, her chest was still heaving, though how she did that with the backpack Nora didn’t know. She didn’t even want to know. Maybe someone had dropped her off, another mother, a nonworking mother who had time to attend not only all of the meets but all of the practices as well.
“Hey,” Angela said, surveying the scene, smiling, but only, if you looked closely, with her mouth. Not her eyes. She let her gaze roam over the room, over Cecily, over Maddie, settling finally on her mother. “I am absolutely starving,” she said. “And I have hours of homework.”
Nora Hawthorne took a deep breath, opened her arms, and folded her oldest daughter into them. Angela: her angel, for so many years the one and only. This was the girl who had frantically sucked her own fingers to get herself to sleep, necessitating early and expensive intervention by one of Marin’s most reputable orthodontists. This was the girl who read a chapter book long before she turned four and spoke an entire sentence in perfectly accented Spanish at age two. This was the girl who had, as a kindergartner, accompanied her father on a trip to Cambridge, Massachusetts, where they had taken in the Harvard–Yale game on a crisp November afternoon, and who had allowed herself to be photographed wearing every sort of crimson paraphernalia that money could buy and some that it couldn’t. The photograph, enlarged, framed, now hung over the desk in Gabe’s home office, a sanctum rarely used for its stated purpose but nevertheless extravagantly decorated with all manner of collegiate memorabilia.
“Mom,” said Angela. She tried to pull back from Nora but Nora wouldn’t allow it; she didn’t care if Angela was sweating or unwilling. She was Nora’s for only a little while longer. Nora hugged the heck out of her anyway.
Twelve months from now Angela would be gone from them, launched into the particulars of her almost-adult life, dependent on her parents to buttress her bank account and occasionally her emotions, but really, truly, for all intents and purposes, gone.
“Mom,” said Angela again. “Let me go. Please? Mom?” But Nora felt her lean in before she pushed away, and all through that fall (was fateful too strong a word to describe it?) she held on to that fraction of a second, that clue that Angela was still a part of them.
“Mom. I’m all sweaty. I’m gross.”
Maddie had gone back to tapping on the screen of her iPhone, almost as though the person who handed her a sizable check each week wasn’t in the same room. Cecily was performing a set of elaborate stretching exercises that involved extending her leg over the couch, lowering it, then lifting it again. Nora’s phone buzzed: probably Penelope’s mother, wondering when Nora might be by to fetch Maya.
Nora released her oldest daughter. Earlier that week she had written seven important words on Angela’s wall calendar: deadline for all early-action application materials. November first.
Here it was. It had arrived. The most important period of Angela Hawthorne’s young life was beginning. Brace yourself, thought Nora. Batten down the hatches. Here we go.
Gabe was early to the appointment with the college counselor, which was fine, except he had taken a half day off for this so in truth it really wasn’t fine for him to have to wait—things at Elpis were busy busy, always busy, the wheels of industry and commerce turning.
It was harder to get an appointment with the college counselor than it was to get a reservation at the French Laundry, and so Nora had sent him several emails and a text the day before reminding him about it. Two p.m., she said. We need to be there together, to support Angela. Gabe checked in at the main office, where a young woman with dramatic red highlights in her hair pointed toward a closed door with a light wooden bench outside of it. “Wait there,” she said. “Ms. Vogel will be with you shortly.” In fact he didn’t consider this appointment to be necessary anyway; this was Nora’s doing. Gabe did not, as they say, have a dog in this fight. Or, more accurately, he had only one dog, and he didn’t consider it a fight. Angela was going to Harvard. Ergo, the meeting with the college counselor was a formality.
He waited five minutes, then ten. Three minutes to two now. How unlike Nora to be late for something like this. He checked his phone and there it was: a text, lacking in punctuation (he blamed Siri) but not clarity: Meet without me have to show the Watkins house just came up sorry
The Watkins house, all four bedrooms and six and a half bathrooms of it. Breathtaking views of the Golden Gate Bridge. Every freaking listing in Belvedere offered breathtaking views of the bridge; if Realtor.com was to be believed, none of the town’s two thousand citizens had taken a full breath in decades. Every home in Belvedere also had more bathrooms than it had bedrooms, which seemed to be a phenomenon of the very wealthy, one that Nora couldn’t explain away, though Gabe had asked. This listing was not the most expensive in Belvedere, but it was the biggest property that Sutton and Wainwright had been offered this year, and the listing had gone to Nora. A very big deal. Four bedrooms on a quarter-acre lot. (“Seriously?” said Gabe, who, though he now considered himself a Californian, and though he loved it here in his adopted state, could still not believe what your money did not get you. The whole state of Wyoming, where Gabe had grown up, would probably sell for less than eight million dollars. “Eight million?” And Nora had said, “Eight point eight. But it’s a Cooper Sudecki.” This last said quietly, reverently, as though no elaboration were needed.)
Once, before kids, they had had fantastic sex on the kitchen floor of Nora’s first listing, a two-bedroom condo in Sausalito. The home was unoccupied—in general, not just at the time, though that too, of course— which made the act seem a little more acceptable, but Nora freaked out after: What if there were security cameras? What if she lost her job? Her license? What if she disappointed the unflappable, undisappointable Arthur Sutton, who doted so thoroughly on Nora?
A murmuring at the office desk, and here, at last, came Angela. She sat down beside Gabe and released an enormous backpack from her shoulders. (Why so big? Hadn’t everything gone digital?) Her eyes were the same blue as Nora’s, though bigger, rounder.
“Hey,” she said. “Hi, Daddy.”
Angela looked tired. “You okay, sweetie?”
“Of course,” she said. Angela and Maya had inherited from Nora the blondish-red hair, the Irish skin, while Cecily, the Irish dancer, looked more like a Syrian refugee—a throwback, maybe, to some Native American blood Gabe’s family had never acknowledged, some kind of skip-a-few-generations gene pool situation. He noted that Angela’s nails were bitten to the quick—a new habit? He couldn’t say—and that they were nonetheless painted a deep purplish black. Angela said, “Where’s Mom?” and went at one of the fingernails, though what was left to chew Gabe couldn’t imagine.
Seventeen years old, and still Angela called him Daddy. He loved that, didn’t want it ever to change. He wanted all of his girls to call him Daddy forever. He wanted Angela to call him Daddy when he walked her down the aisle (many years hence, he hoped) and he wanted her to call him Daddy when she introduced him to his first grandchild.
He held up his phone. “Just got a text. She has to show the Watkins house.”
Angela—if this was possible—opened her eyes even wider than she already had. Those eyes, so big and round that each was like an individual moon set into her face, considered his. “Yeah? That’s great. Let’s hope these people are The Ones.” She knew—as everyone but Arthur Sutton knew— that the Watkins listing was going to expire at the end of November. Five percent of $8.8 million, $440,000. Then, divide that by two, half to the buyers’ realtor and half to Sutton and Wainwright, that was $220,000. Even after Arthur Sutton had taken his cut (and Gabe was never quite sure about what that cut was), it would be a considerable sum for the Hawthornes, coming at just the right time, before the first tuition payments came due. “Still,” continued Angela, “I wish she could be here. She set this whole thing up. I met with the counselor last year. And I’m missing AP English. We’re talking about our college application essays.”
Gabe grew up on a real working ranch outside of Laramie, where the sky was obscenely big and the closest McDonald’s was forty-five minutes away. When he applied to college his personal essay was about birthing a stillborn calf in the middle of a blizzard. True story! It was harrowing, and when he stood next to Nora in the delivery room for the births of all three of their daughters he couldn’t shake certain images from his mind: the blood, the way the mother cow’s eyes rolled back in their sockets, the smell of birth and death “intermingling in the black of a midwinter’s night,” the way he’d written it in the essay. He’d always had a way with words: this helped him enormously in his job at Elpis. He also had a way with people.
He wondered what Angela was going to write about. Had he and Nora done a disservice by not putting her in front of a childbearing cow? He thought they’d given her every advantage, starting with the early days at Little Nugget Montessori. Who was the kid she’d pushed from the top of the slide? Timothy Maloney. (We understand that you and the Maloney family have come to a suitable agreement regarding Timothy’s medical bills, and we are ready to move forward and enjoy the rest of an enriching year here at Little Nugget, said the letter home. “I just wanted to be first,” a tearful Angela had said.) Then there were the swimming lessons, the flute, the dancing, the skiing, the running, French, Italian. But they’d forgotten about the cow. Nobody in his family lived anywhere near a ranch now, his parents had both passed and his two brothers lived in Vancouver and South Carolina, of all places. Everyone was craving water after years of being landlocked. “The essay!” he said. “That’s the best part of the application. What are you thinking about—”
Just then the door beside them opened, and out stepped a mop-haired boy followed by his parents; the man was an older, wearier, tidier version of the son, and the woman was an even wearier version of the man. The tension released from the office was thick thick thick; Gabe would have whispered to Angela that you could practically cut it with a knife, but he knew that was a cliché, and he knew that clichés were verboten at Oakville High, especially in the top fifth of the class.
“That’s Jacob Boyd,” whispered Angela as the backs of the three disappeared around the corner. “He’s, like, fifteenth. Not bad. He’ll probably go somewhere like Occidental.”
Gabe knew that if Nora were there she’d say something cheery and accepting about Jacob Boyd, like, “Occidental is a wonderful school!”
But Nora was not there, she was showing the $8.8 million in Belvedere, and anyway, hard-to-schedule Ms. Vogel was waiting for them. She had a deeply tanned, deeply wrinkled face and wiry gray hair sticking out all over and she wore a sweater that was almost certainly hand-knit. She shook Gabe’s hand with a grip that was limper than Gabe would have liked and said, “Come in, both of you. Mr. Hawthorne. Angela. My next appointment is at two twenty and I know we’ve got a lot of ground to cover here. Mr. Hawthorne? You look a little deer-in-the-headlights. Please don’t worry. I haven’t bitten any parents since second semester of last year.”
Meet the Author
MEG MITCHELL MOORE is the author of the novels The Arrivals and So Far Away. She worked for several years as a journalist for a variety of publications. She lives in Newburyport, Massachusetts, with her husband and three daughters.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
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Not the kind of book I usually read but I did enjoy.
A family drama, but told through almost all of the family members! Mom, Dad, one daughter and some other outer characters took turns narrating this story and I enjoyed reading from different points of view. The main storyline is based around their first born as she is applying to college and hoping to get into her only choice that her dad attended - Harvard. She has spent years and years prepping her grades and resume to get into this school. I loved this story because this felt home to me. Angela was definitely held to a high standard in her house and was expected to make certain grades and compete things at a certain level and I felt like my parents definitely expected a certain level out of me and I could feel for Angela with all the weight on her shoulders. I loved that this was a family drama but it had a focus. The other family members had things going on as well, but having the story focus on the first born and this certain time in her life made this book feel different.
I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. This novel of the Hawthorne family was full of surprises, lessons and SAT Words. I thought it was funny that there were SAT words all over the book. I have a lot of words to look up! This was a fun book to read. The writing was very engaging. This has to be one of the most interesting families I ever read about. Nora Hawthorne is married to Gabe, with three daughters; Angela, Cecily and Maya. Each one of them has their own story, so together Meg Mitchell Moore gives us a very entertaining novel. I see why so many people love this book, because I did, too. I was so entertained reading Nora’s emails to her sister, Marianne. Angela was losing her grip in being Valedictorian and heading to Harvard…and, this is just the beginning. Everyone’s life has issues and they begin to unravel…One fray at a time. Don’t miss out on this story.
I received this book from the BookSparks 2015 Fall Reading Challenge in exchange for a honest review. The Admissions follows one girls dream of getting into Harvard and how her family copes with little drama of their own. Angela Hawthorne is the first born, star athlete and all around scholar when she sets her sights on going to Harvard and discovers that the journey getting there isn't what it's all cracked up to be. Her Family is having a little drama from her sisters discovering what the world is really like to her parents finding that sometimes you have to leave everything you know to find what's really important. I really liked this book, especially with the way Meg had each chapter a different family member and sometimes other people but it wasn't that hard to follow like some other books are when they do this. I enjoyed seeing how all of their stories was linked to each other and how the book ended, it truly was an amazing book! Thank You to Meg Mitchell Moore for making me want to go read more books by you!
I really liked this book a LOT!! It's all about a family with three daughters. Parents who have very good jobs that keep them pretty busy. The kid's lives keep them busy as well what with all their extracurricular activities. They are so busy with the day to day stuff that they overlook quite a few things. a few things get overlooked and a few things are forgotten and a few things slide through the cracks. Then at just about the same time, they all catch up with them and it's not pretty. It comes to a major emotional climax on the Golden Gate Bridge. And just so there's no spoilers, that's all I'm going to tell you about the ending, but it's definitely worth reading to find out what the ending is. The story was very interesting and believable. It held my attention throughout the whole story. I don't think there was one time where I wish that the author had of left something out or had gone overboard on a subject. The characters were well developed and very likable. I highly recommend this book. Thanks Doubleday Books and Net Galley for providing me with this free e-galley in exchange for an honest review. I truly enjoyed reading this entertaining and enjoyable book.
As a parent, I can definitely relate to the angst that goes into college applications. THE ADMISSIONS captures the process in a way that is spot-on and yet, invigorating and oddly reassuring.