Synopses & Reviews
A deliciously funny romp of a novel about one overly theatrical (and sexually confused) New Jersey teenager's larcenous quest for his acting school tuition.
It's 1983 in Wallingford, New Jersey, a sleepy bedroom community outside of Manhattan. Seventeen-year-old Edward Zanni, a feckless Ferris Bueller-type, is Peter Panning his way through a carefree summer of magic and mischief. The fun comes to a halt, however, when Edward's father remarries and refuses to pay for Edward to study acting at Juilliard.
Edward's truly in a bind. He's ineligible for scholarships because his father earns too much. He's unable to contact his mother because she's somewhere in Peru trying to commune with Incan spirits. And, as a sure sign he's destined for a life in the arts, Edward's incapable of holding down a job. So he turns to his loyal (but immoral) misfit friends to help him steal the tuition money from his father, all the while practicing for his high school performance of Grease. Disguising themselves as nuns and priests, they merrily scheme their way through embezzlement, money laundering, identity theft, forgery, and blackmail. But, along the way, Edward also learns the value of friendship, hard work, and how you're not really a man until you can beat up your father metaphorically, that is.
How I Paid for College is a farcical coming-of-age story that's kind of like what would ensue if David Sedaris rewrote The Catcher in the Rye. It is a novel for anyone who has ever had a dream or a scheme, and it marks the introduction to an original and audacious talent.
"Portland humor columnist Acito debuts with dazzling comic panache in this story of a teenage would-be swindler and budding drama queen. Edward Zanni is dying to escape boring Wallingford, N.J., for the hallowed halls of Juilliard, and he's got a pretty good chance at it. It's summer, and he's palling around with his fellow Play People, who include his gorgeous girlfriend, Kelly, and his hot jock pal, Doug, and dreaming of stardom. The fly in the ointment is Zanni's money-obsessed father, Al, who pulls the financial plug on Edward's Juilliard dream after marrying a trophy babe, a beautiful, icy Teutonic model named Dagmar. Edward counters dad's penny-pinching by moving in with Kelly's family to establish financial independence for a scholarship, but bombs at several minimum-wage jobs. How will he pay for college now that his audition really a public mental breakdown got him in? His devious buddy, Nathan, concocts a plan to steal from gold-digging Dagmar, who's been siphoning Al's cash into a secret account. Edward and pals set up a fake nonprofit designed to award a Juilliard scholarship to someone born in Hoboken (Edward) but there's a problem. Acito nails his scenes one after another, from Edward's shifting (but always enthusiastic) sexuality to the silly messes he gets himself into. The result is a thumbs-up winner from a storyteller whose future looks as bright as that of his young hero. Agent, Edward Hibbert. (Sept.) Forecast: Acito's playful, nuanced treatment of sexual exploration and lively plot should make this an appealing choice for older YA readers as well as adults." Publishers Weekly (Starred Review) (Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"Acito proves himself worthy of whatever praise people may want to throw his way....The outsider edge...never devolves into snobbishness and keeps the free-form story humming hilariously along. High school as it should have been." Kirkus Reviews
"Marc Acito's rollicking first novel is, by turns, sweet, sexy, and outrageous. Powered by the author's devious imagination, the story shows us a handful of teenagers driven to larceny, embezzlement, and impersonation all in the name of higher education. Beneath the story's beguiling shtick, though, is a more serious issue the complications inherent in the difficult business of becoming ourselves. A great graduation gift." Jennifer Finney Boylan, author of She's Not There
Set in 1983, this is a deliciously funny romp of a novel about one overly theatrical and sexually confused New Jersey teenager's larcenous quest for his acting school tuition.
About the Author
Hailed as the "gay Dave Barry," Marc Acito is a syndicated humorist, whose column, "The Gospel According to Marc," appears in nineteen newspapers, including the Chicago Free Press and Outword-Los Angeles. After being kicked out of one of the finest drama schools in the country, he went on to sing roles with major opera companies, including Seattle Opera. He lives in Portland, Oregon.
Reading Group Guide
1. HOW I PAID FOR COLLEGE has been described as “if David Sedaris had re-imagined THE CATCHER IN THE RYE.” Do you think the analogy to THE CATCHER IN THE RYE is appropriate and, if so, how?
2. The book is set in the fictional bedroom community of Wallingford, NJ. Could it have been set in another part of the country and, if so, where and why?
3. The story takes place in 1983-84, Ronald Reagans “Morning in America.” How do you think the Reaganite atmosphere affects the behavior of the characters? How are todays teenagers different from those in the 1980s and how do you think they would act in similar circumstances?
4. During the book, Edward is confused about his sexuality. What do you think of this confusion? Is he straight, gay or bisexual? How does his sexuality impact his plans and schemes?
5. In most classic coming of age stories, the parents are either absent, unavailable or dispensed with quickly. (Think of Holden Caulfield, Huck Finn and Harry Potter.) What is the point of having the parents be absent and what do you think would have happened if Edwards parents had been around?
6. What role do the supportive adults (Aunt Glo, Mr. Lucas and Kathleen) play in Edwards life?
7. HOW I PAID FOR COLLEGE is in development at Columbia Pictures to become a major motion picture. Who do you see playing the characters?
8. Edward and his friends are obsessed with musical theater. What do the musicals discussed (GREASE/A CHORUS LINE, PIPPIN/YENTL) illustrate about the characters?
9. When Edward visits Mr. Lucas apartment, Mr. Lucas talks about how books gave him a reason to live after his accident (“I kept reading, just to stay alive. In fact, Id read two or three books at the same time, just so I wouldnt finish one without being in the middle of another-anything to stop me from falling into the big, gaping void”). What do books and reading mean to you?
10. Throughout the book, other works of literature are referenced (OEDIPUS REX, ANTIGONE, HAMLET, GREAT EXPECTATIONS, DAVID COPPERFIELD, PORTRAIT OF THE ARTIST AS A YOUNG MAN and GO TELL IT ON THE MOUNTAIN) How do these works relate to the themes in HOW I PAID FOR COLLEGE?
11. Throughout the book, various religious elements are present (a Buddha, a New Age mom, nuns and priests; Edward even plays Jesus in GODSPELL). Discuss the relevance of the religious imagery and its significance
12. Along the same lines, discuss the relevance of Frank Sinatra.
13. In Greek drama, a deus ex machina refers to the entrance of a god (on a piece of stage machinery) who uses his divine powers to solve all the mortals problems. HOW I PAID FOR COLLEGE contains a very intentional deus ex machina. How does it relate to the themes of the book?
14. The complicated plot is set in motion by Edwards overwhelming desire to be an actor. But, after reading the book, do you think Edward would be successful as an actor?
15. Is there a moral to HOW I PAID FOR COLLEGE?