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The Gifted School by Bruce Holsinger
Literary fiction

The Gifted School

by Bruce Holsinger

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Quick take

Schadenfreude at its finest. A beautiful train wreck of wealthy parents who implode their oh-so-perfect lives.

Good to know

  • Illustrated icon, Icon_400

    400+ pages

  • Illustrated icon, Icon_SocialIssues

    Social issues

  • Illustrated icon, Icon_SlowRead

    Slow build

  • Illustrated icon, Icon_SuburbanDrama

    Suburban drama


Set in the fictional town of Crystal, Colorado, The Gifted School is a keenly entertaining novel that observes the drama within a community of friends and parents as good intentions and high ambitions collide in a pile-up with long-held secrets and lies. Seen through the lens of four families who've been a part of one another's lives since their kids were born over a decade ago, the story reveals not only the lengths that some adults are willing to go to get ahead, but the effect on the group's children, sibling relationships, marriages, and careers, as simmering resentments come to a boil and long-buried, explosive secrets surface and detonate. It's a humorous, keenly observed, timely take on ambitious parents, willful kids, and the pursuit of prestige, no matter the cost.

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Free sample

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The Gifted School

Question 15

A girl of eleven sits hunched over a test booklet, the cold room hushed around her. In her left hand she holds a pencil and beneath her forearm is a bubble sheet speckled with gray dots. A constellation of what she knows and doesn’t, can’t and can. Her elbows rest on either side of the open test. Framing her work, giving it bounds.

She starts to fill in the next circle but at the first soft scratch of the pencil her hand freezes in place. She frowns at the booklet. Because the answer can’t be C

Or can it?

She glances up at the wall clock, hears its soft pulsing.

Two minutes left.

Another dart of pain shoots through her tummy. She erases the mark and reads the question again.

15. There are four boxes below and five figures to the right. The pictures in the upper two boxes fit together in a particular way. In the second row there is an empty box. Which of the five figures to the right goes with the pictures in the lower-left box in the same way the pictures in the upper boxes go together?

She stares at the lower-left box. The colored shapes swarm on the page.

A square, a circle, a trapezoid, a cone, a rhombus.

Blue, red, green, yellow, purple.

She twists a length of hair around a knuckle and tugs until a small patch of pain forms on her scalp. She imagines one of those coin- operated claws from an arcade reaching down into her skull to pull the correct answer from the jumble-jellied mess in her brain.

Her lower lip slips into her mouth. Taste of salt. Her teeth compress the soft ribbon of flesh. Hard. Harder, until it hurts.

But the answer won’t come.

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Why I love it

Great books are about a lot of things: love, loss, transformation… But you know what else they’re about? Badly behaved parents. We’ve got law-breaking parents, like the aspiring murderers in For Better and Worse. We’ve got dishonest parents, like the ones caught up in the trial portrayed in Miracle Creek. And now we’ve got the parents of The Gifted School, a story of lying, cheating, and often downright dirty parents who will do whatever it takes to make their kids succeed.

You may find these characters unlikable, but know that they act with (mostly) good intentions. The Gifted School follows five families whose lives are upended when the mysterious Crystal Academy opens in their yuppie Colorado town. Despite knowing little about the curriculum—or teachers, or administration—these families vie to send their children to the highly selective school. Soon friends turn against friends, siblings against siblings, and the once-peaceful community becomes a hotbed of lies and cutthroat competition.

This book has the gossipy, nosy-neighbor feel of Desperate Housewives or Big Little Lies, only these parents are keeping secrets about test scores (not murder). It’s a fun summer read about the absurd world of elite grade-school education that also hits at a deeper truth. After all, it was only a few months ago that a host of real-life parents were caught cheating their kids’ ways into college. The Gifted School will make you snicker. You might find it absurd. But you might also be left to wonder: If this were my reality, would I behave any better?

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Member ratings (6,035)

  • Hillary E.

    Atherton, CA

    A little creepy that I could picture the characters so easily — a story maybe a little too close to reality? — but I devoured this book. It gripped me from the beginning; I didn’t want to put it down.

  • Brooke M.

    Fredericksburg, VA

    This book really resonated with me. My brother and I are the products of gifted programming, and we both now teach “gifted” students. I have seen first-hand how harmful the label can be. Great read!

  • Rachel H.

    Odenton, MD

    I really loved this book. It’s highly immersive and you get so invested in the characters. It’s really honest about parenthood and how crazy people can get about their kids. Also, it felt like home.

  • Brenna C.

    Austin, TX

    Wow. I didn’t see the end of this book coming. In the middle I was annoyed by all the parents and all the privilege in this book. But I’m so glad I finished it to see how far they all come. Awesome!

  • Monika K.

    Mount Prospect, IL

    I didn’t think this book would be what it was!!! Amazing amazing amazing. So happy I got to read this. At first the characters are hard to follow but soon enough you love some and hate others. Perfect

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