Synopses & Reviews
"You can't just be the smartest. You have to be the most athletic, you have to be able to have the most fun, you have to be the prettiest, the best dressed, the nicest, the most wanted. You have to constantly be out on the town partying, and then you have to get straight As. And most of all, you have to appear to be happy." CJ, age seventeen
High school isn't what it used to be. With record numbers of students competing fiercely to get into college, schools are no longer primarily places of learning. They're dog-eat-dog battlegrounds in which kids must set aside interests and passions in order to strategize over how to game the system. In this increasingly stressful environment, kids aren't defined by their character or hunger for knowledge, but by often arbitrary scores and statistics.
In The Overachievers, journalist Alexandra Robbins delivers a poignant, funny, riveting narrative that explores how our high-stakes educational culture has spiraled out of control. During the year of her ten-year reunion, Robbins returns to her high school, where she follows students including CJ and others:
- Julie, a track and academic star who is terrified she's making the wrong choices
- "AP" Frank, who grapples with horrifying parental pressure to succeed
- Taylor, a soccer and lacrosse captain whose ambition threatens her popular girl status
- Sam, who worries his years of overachieving will be wasted if he doesn't attend a name-brand college
- Audrey, who struggles with perfectionism
- and the Stealth Overachiever, a mystery junior who flies under the radar.
Robbins tackles hard-hitting issues such as the student and teacher cheating epidemic, over-testing, sports rage, the black market for study drugs, and a college admissions process so cutthroat that some students are driven to depression and suicide because of a B. Even the earliest years of schooling have become insanely competitive, as Robbins learned when she gained unprecedented access into the inner workings of a prestigious Manhattan kindergarten admissions office.
A compelling mix of fast-paced storytelling and engrossing investigative journalism, The Overachievers aims both to calm the admissions frenzy and to expose its escalating dangers.
"In this engrossing anthropological study of the cult of overachieving that is prevalent in many middle- and upper-class schools, Robbins (Pledged: The Secret Life of Sororities) follows the lives of students from a Bethesda, Md., high school as they navigate the SAT and college application process. These students are obsessed with success, contending with illness, physical deterioration (senior Julie is losing hair over the pressure to get into Stanford), cheating (students sell a physics project to one another), obsessed parents ( Frank's mother manages his time to the point of abuse) and emotional breakdowns. What matters to them is that all-important acceptance to the right name-brand school. 'When teenagers inevitably look at themselves through the prism of our overachiever culture,' Robbins writes, 'they often come to the conclusion that no matter how much they achieve, it will never be enough.' The portraits of the teens are compelling and make for an easy read. Robbins provides a series of critiques of the system, including college rankings, parental pressure, the meaninglessness of standardized testing and the push for A.P. classes. She ends with a call to action, giving suggestions on how to alleviate teens' stress and panic at how far behind they feel." Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"I couldn't get enough of it....[P]art soap opera, part social treatise....I was so hooked on their stories that I wanted to vote for my favorite contestant at the end of every chapter." Eugenie Allen, The New York Times Book Review
"An overwritten account of the overachiever culture that is stressing out teenagers....Some worthwhile research here, buried under an off-putting amount of teenage trivia." Kirkus Reviews
"[I]t's difficult to ignore [Robbins'] perspectives on such issues as the influence of the SAT or the day-to-day struggles of the kids, who can't rest until they 'outwit, outplay, and outlast' the competition." Booklist
"Compelling investigative journalism....The author concludes this eye-opener with suggestions for high schools, colleges, counselors, parents and students alike." BookPage
The bestselling author of Pledged returns with a groundbreaking look at the pressure to achieve faced by America's teens.
The bestselling author of Pledged returns with a groundbreaking look at the pressure to achieve faced by America's teens
In Pledged, Alexandra Robbins followed four college girls to produce a riveting narrative that read like fiction. Now, in The Overachievers, Robbins uses the same captivating style to explore how our high-stakes educational culture has spiraled out of control. During the year of her ten-year reunion, Robbins goes back to her high school, where she follows heart-tuggingly likeable students including "AP" Frank, who grapples with horrifying parental pressure to succeed; Audrey, whose panicked perfectionism overshadows her life; Sam, who worries his years of overachieving will be wasted if he doesn't attend a name-brand college; Taylor, whose ambition threatens her popular girl status; and The Stealth Overachiever, a mystery junior who flies under the radar.
Robbins tackles teen issues such as intense stress, the student and teacher cheating epidemic, sports rage, parental guilt, the black market for study drugs, and a college admissions process so cutthroat that students are driven to suicide and depression because of a B.
With a compelling mix of fast-paced narrative and fascinating investigative journalism, The Overachievers aims both to calm the admissions frenzy and to expose its escalating dangers.
An account of child genius Taylor Wilsonand#8217;s successful quest to build his own nuclear reactor at the age of fourteen, and an exploration of how gifted children can be nurtured to do extraordinary things.
How an American teenager became the youngest person ever to build a working nuclear fusion reactorand#160;
By the age of nine, Taylor Wilson had mastered the science of rocket propulsion. At eleven, his grandmotherandrsquo;s cancer diagnosis drove him to investigate new ways to produce medical isotopes. And by fourteen, Wilson had built a 500-million-degree reactor and become the youngest person in history to achieve nuclear fusion. How could someone so young achieve so much, and what can Wilsonandrsquo;s story teach parents and teachers about how to support high-achieving kids?
In The Boy Who Played with Fusion, science journalist Tom Clynes narrates Taylor Wilsonandrsquo;s extraordinary journeyandmdash;from his Arkansas home where his parents fully supported his intellectual passions, to a unique Reno, Nevada, public high school just for academic superstars, to the present, when now nineteen-year-old Wilson is winning international science competitions with devices designed to prevent terrorists from shipping radioactive material into the country. Along the way, Clynes reveals how our education system shortchanges gifted students, and what we can do to fix it.
About the Author
Alexandra Robbins, the author of two New York Times bestsellers and a former New Yorker staff member, has written for publications such as Vanity Fair, the New Yorker, the Atlantic Monthly, and the Washington Post. Her five books also include Secrets of the Tomb, which investigated the secret society Skull and Bones.