Thursday 10 January 2019

Book Review: Trust Exercise by Susan Choi (Literary Fiction)

Title: Trust Exercise
Author: Susan Choi
Serpent's Tail

Publication Date: 2 May 2019
eBook - PDF
Literary Fiction
ARC via NetGalley

In their first term at a highly competitive performing arts high school, two students, Sarah and David, fall deeply and obsessively in love. Under the care of Mr. Kingsley, their magnetic and manipulative drama instructor, they and their peers exist in a rarefied bubble, where the boundaries between students and teachers become first dangerously blurred, and then completely broken. The outside world of family and class, academic pressure and the future can't affect them-until it does-and they must deal with the ensuing rejection, rebellion, and heartbreak.

Two decades on we learn that what we were told about these teenagers' lives is not completely true, but not completely false, either. The real story is larger and darker than we imagined, and the consequences have lasted a lifetime.

Captivating and brilliant, Trust Exercise is a novel about the treacherous terrain of adolescence, how we define consent, and what we lose, gain, and never get over as we navigate our way into adulthood's mysterious structures of sex and power.

Trust Exercise is a difficult book to rate. Certainly it's clever, but I think it's too clever for its own good. The sudden shifts in narrative don't flow, and the first major one completely threw me for a few pages until I realised what was happening and where I now was. The story raises some interesting questions about the nature of consent, and of power dynamics between teens and adults. However, I never connected with any of the characters. I could relate a little to Karen, but Sarah and David were not especially 'likeable'; I couldn't bring myself to care about them and their hyped-up problems. I think some of the issues stem from the way the book is presented, as what I got from it is absolutely nothing like what I expected from reading the blurb. This review feels negative, but in actual fact it is more middling. I didn't hate the book--I enjoyed the performing arts setting, and I thought it posed some important questions, many of which are very timely, given current events. But I couldn't fully connect with it, or with its characters, which left me apathetic overall. I would give this book three stars. It makes some interesting points, but its narrative structure, and lack of deep empathy with the characters, lets it down.

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