Cover Image: Admissions


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n her memoir, Admissions, Kendra James chronicles the three years she spent at Taft, an elite Connecticut boarding school, where she was the first African American legacy student, as well as her post graduate work in diversity recruitment for independent prep schools, during which time she recounts “selling a lie”.

The memoir chronicles the BIPOC experience at a historically oppressively white institution, noting the micro aggressions and the full fledged racism that students of color received, along with noting the school’s failure to *actually* foster diversity and inclusivity.

As with many memoirs, I very much took a lot from the overall message, but struggled with the small details. In Admissions case, the core of the memoir sometimes got too muddled with recollections that read from any standard teen girl diary (so and so kissed so and so, Orlando Bloom is super hot, etc.) and that get lost on anyone not actually in James’s graduating class.

Despite the overly extensive secondary details, the message of racism within highly regarded, cushy and safe for some not all, prep schools remains and gives a voice to students who have experienced unequal opportunity under the guise of seeming privilege.
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I’m a glutton for anything East Coast prep school related and this memoir blew my brain open. Thank you Kendra James for giving us a glimpse into her days at Taft, the racism she had to endure, and what she’s learned since.
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The first section was great but faltered about 2/3rds in. I wish she had talked about school and then had an afterward where she talked about current issues and how she got into recruiting. That was sort of sprinkled in and at times I didn’t think it made sense juxtaposed with a story about dating or watching the WB. There were important issues and points about how schools have changed and social issues but ended lost.

I do feel like her parents didn’t do a good job preparing her for boarding school and would have liked to have learned more about that. Her dad also went to Taft. That would have been a natural addition to the first half of the book. My guess is she didn’t want the focus to be on her family but some of the ways things were handled and how unprepared she was for micro and macro aggressions really had me wondering what was going on there
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Admissions is a humorous, biographical novel told by Kendra James. The first African American legacy student who graduated from The Taft School. Kendra gives her account of being accepted and navigating the white spaces in the school. In equal parts of outrage, comedy, injustice and nerdisms. This book will leave you with an eye opening experience. Thank you Netgalley and Grand Central Publishing for a copy of Admissions in exchange for an honest review.
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Kendra James was the first Black legacy to graduate from The Taft School, an elite boarding school in Connecticut. 

When she later works as an admissions officer specializing in diversity recruitment for independent prep schools, she finds herself examining her high school educational experience with a more critical eye, forcing herself to delve more deeply into aspects of her years at Taft that she largely glossed over at the time--and ultimately debating whether or not she should be advising families to pursue the same precarious path she herself followed.

Digging into the past often seems a difficult undertaking, and as she looks back, Kendra James explains that her main goals when she attended Taft were not bringing to light racial injustice and leading a charge toward change, but typically teenage: to escape into role-playing video games and write fan fiction, to bond with a few classmates through watching favorite movies, and, primarily, to secure a spot in a college of her choice, then to (as is the goal for many high schoolers, for various reasons) get out of high school and get on with the rest of her life. 

James notes repeatedly that she felt largely unseen and unknown during her boarding school years. When she attends various Taft alumni events in the years following her graduation, they cement this same feeling. Her appearance in a Taft publication that lists her incorrect graduation year (and reunion year) grates on her as more evidence of this.

The majority of page time is focused on aspects of James's boarding-school life, including its rhythms and peculiarities. James received financial aid to attend Taft, then $35,000 a year, and she then attended Oberlin for college, which, by her and her parents' design, was an admissions door likely opened more widely because of her Taft pedigree. But the book is not in large part about financial or class privilege.

At times James laments the absence of frank discussions about race that she might have had with her parents, and she criticizes the lack of information she received from them on the topic. She wishes she could have learned more from them before entering Taft about the many ways she might have expected race to affect her life--especially considering the vastly white, elite circles her parents had either dipped their toes into or immersed themselves in: for example, Taft, Smith, Brown, and her father's banking job. 

The author notes that when she was a high schooler, in that place and time in our society, she didn't have an understanding of the power of daily microaggressions nor of blatant racism--nor did she have the language and perspective she now has to talk about such things--in order to sift through the many disturbing race-based incidents in her young life. 

James's evaluation of events of these years--including the racism she experienced at school; diverse, acute instances of disturbing behavior, whether race-based and class- and gender-based; and the social segregation of social groups by race--feels hesitantly explored at times as she attempts to dig into her raw teenage feelings while acknowledging her youthful lack of understanding and her early, unformed grasp of the myriad social, racial, and class issues shaping her experience. 

Regarding a situation in which the strict rule-follower James was accused of wrongdoing while at Taft, the author acknowledges that for years she largely glossed over not only the event, but the racial issues bubbling beneath the incident and her resulting emotional trauma, pushing all of this down until her reckoning with it in young adulthood. 

Late in the book, James shares select portions of a disturbing article a white student wrote for the school paper while James also attended Taft, in which the article's author largely blames the school's racial divides on the students of color themselves and mentions her discomfort about the existence of programs and events that put people of color at their center. James expresses anger and frustration at Taft's ineffective response--and at the many missed opportunities she sees before and after that event for the school to have shaped an effective approach to true inclusion. 

In Admissions, James offer a book that is partly a social critique, partly a recounting of the absurdities she experienced, and partly simply her unique story of living away from home and often feeling lonely and alone in her experience.

I received a prepublication digital edition of this book courtesy of Grand Central Publishing and NetGalley.
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I very much enjoyed this memoir of the first African-American "legacy" student at a fancy boarding school. Written in a breezy and informal style, parts of it are fun and entertaining, especially the descriptions of being a total nerd interested in witchcraft who's surrounded by preppies--and the internet is cut off at 10pm! But mainly it's a harrowing description of the experience of being one of very few Black students in a fundamentally racist environment. The saddest part was when (view spoiler) 

We also learn a little bit about the author's grown-up life as an admissions officer and how conflicted she felt between wanting to give children of color more opportunities and also wanting them to know the truth about how hard it will be to go to a white-dominated school. Overall, the story was very thought-provoking and brought up a lot of memories of my private high school, where in 9th grade we had only ten African-American students in the class and by the time I graduated, half of them had been kicked out, left back, or they decided to leave, including all the boys, while white students got an unending stream of "second chances." 

For me, this book had a slow start. I felt I was seeing her first days at Taft boarding school in excruciating detail, with every single person she met there and what they were wearing. I was a bit apprehensive about the pace of this book and if anything would ever happen. But then it really got going, so my advice is that this book is really worth it and if you feel bogged down, just skim along for a bit and you will be rewarded. As soon as I was done, I immediately recommended this book to someone.

I gratefully received an advance review copy from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.
(Posted on Goodreads)
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Interesting memoir of woman who was a Black student in a white majority elite private school. She later became a recruiter specifically trying to sell other minority students on the experience. The story is what the reader might expect: many micro aggressions, unequal treatment, and overt racism. The book is heartfelt, but over well-trodden paths.
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In this memoir, Kendra James shares her experience attending an elite boarding school, being one of the few students of color. 

This memoir was part social critique of the very white-centered world of elite prep schools, part comedy with some of the entertaining antics Kendra and her friend for into. Kendra’s experiences were fascinating and even horrifying at times - some of the injustices and micro-aggressions she faced were astonishing. I really enjoyed reading this and thing it would be a great book for everyone to read.

Thank you to Grand Central Publishing and NetGalley for the advanced copy.
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I’m loving Admissions, which comes out on 1/18. 

The author, Kendra James writes about being the first Black legacy student at her boarding school. This memoir talks about the numerous micro- and macro-aggressions of being Black in that homogeneous environment. 

At times, this novel is laugh out loud funny. The author’s descriptions of her nerdy high school self, with her various intense fandoms and matching accessories, delighted me. It also illustrated how racism can act to obscure markers of identity such as fandom and how that can hurt teens. 

Highly, highly recommend this excellent book. Thanks to NetGalley for the ARC in exchange for an honest review.
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Admissions was a few things....eye opening, devastating, informative and educational. In ADMISSIONS Kendra, who just happens to be the first black legacy student to graduate from Taft explains her experiences at the three years she spent at the elite prep school.  

Honestly, some parts were hard to read the things people say and think toward poc can be so ignorant and judgmental and then there were things that I've experienced myself and wasn't surprised to hear. 

It made me wonder if it would even be worth it. Even if I thought sending my child to an elite school would open up certain doors for them, what about all the turmoil they'd have to handle while they're there. 

I appreciate Kendra for sharing this and I'm really glad I read it.
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A study in micro aggressions at an elite prep school.  This is pretty much what I would imagine the experience for minorities at an elite institution.  I don’t know how these students stand it.  From being called a thief to having your entire hair routine dissected this seems like more trouble than it’s worth.  Distressing and frustrating but realistic!
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Heartbreaking and riveting. I truly wasn’t sure what to expect with this one, but it was both so well done and so hard to read.
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This is fascinating, horrifying, and sad all at once.   I'm glad to have heard the author's experience, but furious at what was allowed to happen and devastated by what it cost her.   The extra burdens placed on the author didn't belong on a teenager, who should have been able to learn and grow as her nerdgirl self without being asked to put up with endless insults and injustices, to say nothing of everyday microaggressions and othering.   I hope telling her story was cathartic and that it reaches people who need to hear it.

Many thanks to the publisher and NetGalley for the opportunity to read and review!
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"I received a complimentary copy of this book through NetGalley. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own."
It was a well written and interesting look at the admissions "game" of private lower level schools.
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Thank you to Netgalley and Grand Central Publishing for the opportunity to read and review this book prior to publication. I heard about this book on a book podcast that was sharing upcoming new releases the podcasters were excited about, and I immediately went on Netgalley to request this book. The author was the first African American legacy student to graduate from The Taft School, an elite boarding school in New England. She looks back on those years and shares troubling and hilarious encounters she had on campus in this mostly-white school. She discusses the racism and classism present and deconstructs her own reactions and her growth as a person since that time. Now as an admissions officer for diversity recruitment, she reflects on her own experiences and the problems with the US education system. This is a powerful read and should sit on your bookshelf alongside other books on race in America. Highly recommended.
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