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Review-a-Day
Esquire
Wednesday, July 25th, 2007
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The Headmaster Ritual

by Taylor Antrim

Bullies, Stoners, and Dictators

A review by Andy Schlesinger

Don't let the cover fool you: The Headmaster Ritual by Taylor Antrim is not meant for a young adult audience. Yes, the story is set at an elite New England prep school. But instead of joining key club or debating the best coxswain for this year's crew team, these kids fight and hook up and debate with a fervor that would make most Brown students blush. Meekly avoiding all of this is James Wolfe, the son of the new headmaster, who just wants to make it through his senior year -- an idea that becomes a lot harder when he and the school's new history teacher are forced to represent North Korea at the model UN conference.

Antrim uses the North Korea thread to take on some grand themes, including paternal estrangement, social isolation, and fear of confrontation, and at times they seem like a little more than he can handle. But then he'll describe a soccer ball to the face so well that you can't help but jerk your head back and cringe, or interrupt his narrative of somber faculty meetings to update the tally of the school's "Mastur-derby." Skillful and funny moments like these make you overlook the shortcomings of Antrim's first novel. They're enough to make you look forward to his second.


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