They Wish They Were Us – by Jessica Goodman


    They Wish They Were Us – by Jessica Goodman, Razorbill (an imprint of Penguin Random House), 9780593114292, 2020 

Rating: 1-5 (5 is an excellent or a Starred review) 4

Format: Hardcover

Genre: Mystery

What did you like about the book?  This book was a delicious, well-written mash up of Gossip Girl and Veronica Mars, while neatly working in a critical examination of hazing. It’s not subtle. Jill Newman is a scholarship student at Gold Coast Prep, out on the tip of Long Island. Despite her low socio-economic status, she manages to get tapped for a secret society, the Players, run by upperclassmen. After enduring unspeakable torture during their freshman year, the Players reap the benefits in the form of purloined exams, plagiarized papers and Ivy League contacts. But on the last night of initiation, something went terribly wrong and golden girl (and Jill’s best friend) Shaila died, and her boyfriend, fellow freshman initiate Graham, got framed. Now it’s senior year and Jill’s rethinking everything, from Graham’s guilt, to the morality of cheating, to the cruelty of the Players, especially now that her little brother Jared got tapped. 

This is a twist, turny, atmospheric and totally voyeuristic look at how the other half lives. It’s not meant to be realistic — it’s a fantasy and pretty un-put-downable.  Parents, kind adults, understanding teachers? Either not in the book or totally useless. I loved the scene where the evil principal threatens to upend Jill’s dream of attending Brown to pursue astrophysics if she spills any dirt on Gold Coast Prep. There’s also a cute hunky boyfriend and a steamy older crush to liven up Jill’s days. It’s a wonder she ever gets any work done! All characters are presumed white except for Nikki, the Player/class president whose parents are Hong Kong textile magnates (no, really). 

Anything you didn’t like about it? The mystery wasn’t too hard to solve, but was sort of beside the point, so that seemed OK. I will say, the passing of time was handled clumsily. The book opens in September of senior year (with multiple flashbacks to freshman year) and then suddenly, everyone’s got their college acceptances. Wow, that year really flew by! The hazing was disturbing and quite extreme; realistically, I don’t think it would have been easy to hide. But hazing is an ongoing issue in schools and colleges, so I welcomed any examination of the psychology behind it and the gender inequity that Jill gradually realizes forms the foundation of Player cruelty. 

To whom would you recommend this book?  Teens looking for mysteries in the Gone Girl  mode. 

Who should buy this book? High schools and public libraries. There’s copious amounts of alcohol, roofies, and teen sex (that Jill isn’t that into but doesn’t say no — that was disturbing.)

Where would you shelve it? Fiction

Should we (librarians/readers) put this on the top of our “to read” piles? No

Reviewer: Susan Harari, Keefe Library, Boston Latin School, Boston, MA

Date of review: August 22, 2020

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