Enhanced descriptions from Syndetics:
<p> WINNER OF THE 2019 NATIONAL BOOK AWARD FOR FICTION <br> <br> NATIONAL BESTSELLER<br> <br> "Electrifying" ( People ) * "Masterly" ( The Guardian ) * "Dramatic and memorable" ( The New Yorker ) * "Magic" ( TIME ) * " Ingenious" ( The Financial Times ) * "A gonzo literary performance" ( Entertainment Weekly ) * "Rare and splendid" ( The Boston Globe ) * "Remarkable" ( USA Today ) * "Delicious" ( The New York Times ) * "Book groups, meet your next selection" (NPR) <br> <br> In an American suburb in the early 1980s, students at a highly competitive performing arts high school struggle and thrive in a rarified bubble, ambitiously pursuing music, movement, Shakespeare, and, particularly, their acting classes. When within this striving "Brotherhood of the Arts," two freshmen, David and Sarah, fall headlong into love, their passion does not go unnoticed--or untoyed with--by anyone, especially not by their charismatic acting teacher, Mr. Kingsley.<br> <br> The outside world of family life and economic status, of academic pressure and of their future adult lives, fails to penetrate this school's walls--until it does, in a shocking spiral of events that catapults the action forward in time and flips the premise upside-down. What the reader believes to have happened to David and Sarah and their friends is not entirely true--though it's not false, either. It takes until the book's stunning coda for the final piece of the puzzle to fall into place--revealing truths that will resonate long after the final sentence.<br> <br> As captivating and tender as it is surprising, Susan Choi's Trust Exercise will incite heated conversations about fiction and truth, and about friendships and loyalties, and will leave readers with wiser understandings of the true capacities of adolescents and of the powers and responsibilities of adults.</p>
In 1982 in a southern city, David and Sarah, two freshmen at a highly competitive performing arts high school, thrive alongside their school peers in a rarified bubble, ambitiously devoting themselves to their studies--to music, to movement, to Shakespeare and, particularly, to classes taught by the magnetic acting teacher Mr. Kingsley. It is here in these halls that David and Sarah fall innocently and powerfully into first love. And also where, as this class of students rises through the ranks of high school, the outside world of family life and economic status, of academic pressure and the future, does not affect them--until it does.
Reviews provided by Syndetics
Kirkus Book Review
What begins as the story of obsessive first love between drama students at a competitive performing arts high school in the early 1980s twists into something much darker in Choi's singular new novel.The summer between their freshman and sophomore years at the Citywide Academy for the Performing Artsan elite institution "intended to cream off the most talented at selected pursuits from the regular places all over the [unnamed Southern] city" where they livedSarah and David consummate the romance that had been brewing the whole previous year. It is the natural culmination of the "taut, even dangerous energy running between them," whichwhile naturally occurringhas been fostered by Mr. Kingsley, the head of Theatre Arts, who has positioned himself as the central figure in his students' lives, holding power not only over their professional futures, but their social ones as well: part parent, part guru, part master manipulator. But when Sarah and David return in the fall, their relationship instantly crumbles, and in the wake of their very public dissolution, Sarah finds herself increasingly isolated, dismissed into the shadows of CAPA life. Until, that spring, a British theater troupe comes to campus as part of a cultural exchange, and Sarah, along with her classmate Karen, begin parallel relationships with the English imports: Karen is in love with the director, and Sarah is uncomfortably linked to his protg, the production's star. It is, until now, a straightforward story, capturingwith nauseating, addictive accuracythe particular power dynamics of elite theater training. And then, in the second part of the novel, Pulitzer finalist Choi (My Education, 2013, etc.) upends everything we thought we knew, calling the truth of the original narrative into question. (A short coda, set in 2013, recasts it again.) This could easily be insufferable; in Choi's hands, it works: an effective interrogation of memory, the impossible gulf between accuracy and the stories we tell. And yet, as rigorous and as clever and as relevant as it is, the second half of the novel never quite reaches the soaring heights of the first. It's hardly a deal breaker: the writing (exquisite) and the observations (cuttingly accurate) make Choi's latest both wrenching and one-of-a-kind.Never sentimental; always thrillingly alive. Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.
New York Times Book Review
if YOU'VE ever done time in a school cafeteria, you know the feeling of standing at the edge of a table where the last seat is being saved for someone else. This is the feeling I had while reading Susan Choi's "Trust Exercise," a perplexing novel about a group of theater kids at a prestigious performing-arts high school. The story begins in 1982, in a nameless Southern town - one with "no bodies of water, no drainage, no hills, no topographical variety of any sort." Arriving in the summer, as we do, you can smell the boredom wafting off housing complexes so vast and uniform, one teenager chalks an "X" on her gate just to distinguish it from all the others. This is Sarah, who is in love with her fellow thespian David in that white-hot way where they pretend he's picking her up for a game of racquetball even though they both know they won't leave the house until her mom comes home from work. It's that kind of summer, the best kind. The trouble starts when Sarah and David return to CAPA (Citywide Academy for the Performing Arts) and their relationship suddenly includes a third party: their teacher, Mr. Kingsley, who has the outsize magnetic pull of an adult assigning roles to teenagers. (Anyone who has tried out for a school play will know the type.) He subjects the students to a series of trust exercises that at first seem benign. Sarah and David sit facing each other, repeating variations on the same line: "Your eyes are blue." "My eyes are blue." "Your eyes are blue." Over and over again, until the two of them learn something about each other and the relationship falters. It may sound silly, but it's not. There's a profundity to these early scenes that reminds you of the power of sustained eye contact. The relationship is the first domino to fall. Then friendships fizzle and new alliances form. A troupe from a British school arrives to perform "Candide," and when they bunk in students' homes, politics and late-night revelry ensue. There are some awkward sex scenes ("His dead white hairy limbs appeared impaled on the stem of his unaccountably wrinkly erection which he took in his fist and seemed to squirt redly at her"). There's a lot of car envy. There's the enmeshed mom who lends out pajamas in exchange for confidences and a "cuddle." There are standing ovations and there is cruelty. (This is 1982 - not an easy time to be gay, no matter how old you are.) We're chugging along, enjoying Choi's tart commentary, until the halfway mark, when she fast-forwards a dozen years and the story goes off the rails. Suddenly, we're at a bookstore where Sarah - now grown, now a writer - is giving a reading from a novel based on her high school days. We're with "Karen," who is not actually Karen, whose adult life is still very much wrapped up in the CAPA world in ways I won't reveal here. Suffice it to say: This is when we understand how left out we've been. We're not just at the wrong lunch table; we're in the wrong building, climbing a staircase that leads to a locked door to the roof (and, contrary to suburban legend, there's no pool out there). Unfortunately, Choi's bait and switch doesn't feel playful or experimental. It's not "Gone Girl" cleverness or the amusing frustration of an unreliable narrator. It's total confusion. I had this sense of having followed someone blindly through a warren of circuitous sentences, minus the usual mile markers of chapter breaks, and suddenly being abandoned. In the end, the experience of reading " Trust Exercise" is reminiscent of the most famous trust exercise of all: the one where you fall backward into your partner's outstretched arms. You believe your partner will catch you. In this case, she doesn't. ELISABETH EGAN is the author of "A Window Opens," co-host of the Broken Harts podcast and correspondent behind @100postcards.