REVIEW: We Regret to Inform You by Ariel Kaplan
Mischa Abramavicius is a walking, talking, top-scoring, perfectly well-rounded college application in human form. So when she’s rejected not only by the Ivies, but her loathsome safety school, she is shocked and devastated. All the sacrifices her mother made to send her to prep school, the late nights cramming for tests, the blatantly résumé-padding extracurriculars (read: Students for Sober Driving), the feelings of burnout … all that for nothing.
As Mischa grapples with the prospect of an increasingly uncertain future, she questions how this could have happened in the first place. Is it possible that her transcript was hacked? With the help of her best friend and sometimes crush, Nate, and a group of eccentric techies known as “The Ophelia Syndicate,” Mischa launches an investigation that will shake the quiet community of Blanchard Prep to its stately brick foundations.
Dear Ms. Kaplan,
I saw and bought this book last year, way before the college admissions scandal broke. I had it in my head that it would be a lighthearted YA novel about one senior’s nightmare of not being accepted to any college comes true and how she and some friends would humorously angst over it and fix it. Now with the events of Operation Varsity Blues in my mind, I read it with a much darker mindset.
Like her fellow (high achieving) seniors at Blanchard, Mischa Abramavicius is waiting to hear the results of four years of hard work, test taking, extra curricular efforts (with – ahem – just a little padding of those clubs so her transcript would look the best it could) as well as major financial sacrifices by her single mother to afford the high price of Mischa’s place at the private school. Unlike her fellows though, Mischa gets rejected by them all, including her “safety school” where she knows she should have got in.
Now she’s not only trying to hide this from the other students – both friends and foes – at school but also from her mother. Mischa knows how much she and her mother have given up to afford even the little bit of the tuition after the hefty scholarship Mischa’s been awarded. Unable to believe that even her safety school didn’t “wait list” her, Mischa goes on the offensive and discovers something that shocks her, something that can’t be. With the help of some badass female techies, Mischa learns how bad things are. When she’s faced with further fallout that could affect more than just her future, what will she decide is the right thing to do?
I remember the days of high school and surreptitiously checking out grades and the scholastic standing of my fellow seniors. We didn’t have cell phones in order to get our acceptances and everything was done via paper instead of computer transmissions (oops, just dated myself) but everyone knew when someone had found out where they were going to college. Since I went to a public school, I doubt there was any money crossing palms about our placements, though.
Mischa has worked hard and raced along on the gerbil wheel of competitive high school activities and study. She was also raised with a lawyer mother who works with low-income clients who made sure that Mischa knew that even though she could only afford to attend this school with a scholarship, she was already ten steps ahead of most other people. Mischa’s great-grandmother and grandmother were the only members of their family to escape Lithuania after World War II. For the family, the motto of Opportunity=Responsibility is one that’s been hammered home.
As their actions uncover what’s really going on, Mischa comes face to face with fall-out she hadn’t ever anticipated. It’s real and will affect many more people than just herself. I thought her response and wishful thinking seemed accurate for someone who’s still a teenager. She’s young and she’s still figuring things out and will make mistakes. Peer and family pressure are powerful and both get turned on her whether or not the sources intended it.
I’m glad that the crushing expectations and actions of family as well as the crippling effect these can have on high school students is a part of the story. No one commits suicide but the mental health of one student has suffered in the past. The whole rat race of chasing the grades and activities needed to impress admissions committees is a (slightly) cynical backdrop to Mischa’s hunt for the truth.
The dialog is perhaps just a little too snappy and there are times when I wanted to shake Mischa’s when her disbelief and then desperate attempts to fix things, without certain people coming to grief, get more convoluted. Some of the techies are obviously there to be the voice of authority, snapping Mischa back from giving up or chickening out at getting to the bottom of what’s going on but otherwise they were not well rounded characters. There’s also a Mean Girl who is basically just mean and little more. Mischa’s crush was also just a bit too perfect.
I wanted Mischa to have had a greater hand in actually working towards discovering what was done rather than passively sitting back with the tech girls being the main movers and shakers. Mischa can also narrow her friend focus when it suits her and despite having to flail through the fog of her college rejections, I felt she abandoned a few who had been friends with her over the years with little repercussions.
The story ends with Mischa still searching for who and what she really wants to be and heading off to maybe discover it. I liked the book which kept me interested and reading for long stretches of time. But, despite the fact that she does do some character growth, I felt that Mischa was still unformed and underdone. Perhaps that was what was intended and she will finally take the time to discover what she wants to do rather than just stampede along with the herd. Nonetheless it brings up lots of issues to be thought about and further examined in light of the real life scandal and what it says about money and privilege. B-/C+