This is yet another entry into the rich-teens-in-boarding-schools-have-issues category. This young adult novel is made up of letters, press clippings, and other documents assembled by the fictional narrator, Flora Goldwasser, to tell what happened when she first had her heart broken.
When she was 16, Flora had a crush on a teacher, Elijah Huck, at her elite school in New York. Elijah was not only a history teacher but also a photographer, and admired Flora’s style. Flora was into vintage clothes and crafting her image as a “stylista.” Flora agreed to pose for him in her chic retro outfits all around the city, but with her face obscured. Elijah started a blog featuring the photos, identifying Flora as “Miss Tulip.” The blog went viral, with many fan girls trying to imitate Flora’s fashion choices.
Meanwhile, Elijah encouraged Flora to transfer to Quare Academy, a hippie Quaker school he attended in the Hudson Valley, and where he planned to teach the following year. Flora, thinking this was her chance to ensnare Elijah, transferred to the school. Immediately though, she felt like an outsider, judged negatively by the others in this place where paying attention to the “shell” of a person was not only discouraged but considered anathema. She was all about channeling the looks of Jackie Kennedy, while her small group of classmates were focused on their inner selves. To make matters worse, Elijah changed his plans and went elsewhere.
The rest of the story details Flora’s adjustment, and her eventual confrontation with Elijah.
The author has said in an interview that the story largely came from her own life; she too transferred from a posh school in Manhattan to an “alternative, farm, social-justice boarding school…. [with] people who wore tattered shirts and ate a lot of lentils and stuff like that.”
While some of the commentary in the book is wickedly funny (reminding one of Maria Semple skewering Seattle in Where’d You Go Bernadette) it is unclear if the author is making satirical meta-observations about attempts by rich liberals to identify with those who have less, or if the “satire” was my own projection, with the author actually identifying with her protagonist.
Either way, the angst and self-absorption of the 1% can be off-putting. The story is witty enough, but in the end, there doesn’t seem like there is much there there. And I was never convinced Flora was a very sympathetic character.
Published by Wednesday Books, an imprint of St. Martins Press, a division of Macmillan, 2017