They Wish They Were Us

Razorbill. Aug. 2020. 336p. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780593114292.
Gr 10 Up–Debut author Goodman uses the plot device of a murder mystery to examine the power imbalance among boys and girls. Goodman studies the lives of students who are privileged and well-off versus those who receive scholarships, and people who believe the world belongs to them versus those who will do anything to achieve social and financial mobility. Becoming a Player means everything to students at Gold Coast Prep. It is a virtual ticket to every opportunity in life, offering prestige, study guides, answers to tests, and covert assistance in getting into an Ivy League college. As a freshman, Jill is thrilled to be tagged as a potential Player. But after the mysterious death of her best friend, terrible hazing, and sinister secrets, Jill isn’t sure being on top is worth the price she has paid. Friendships are tested as Jill questions her place as a Player and vows to see the toxic hazing stop. Told as flashbacks from freshman to senior year, the novel offers a deep dive into the world of young elites and the pressures of success. Goodman stops just short of examining rape culture thoroughly, while many of its elements are portrayed: awful hazing events that revolve around forced nudity, sexual encounters lacking consent, implied statutory rape, and other forms of sexual harassment. The female characters always fall prey to the worst, most humiliating demands. Yet Goodman never goes farther than simply pointing it out and chronicling it.
VERDICT The mystery holds, and while strong language, drug use, and full sex scenes make this a better choice for older teens, the novel has appeal for most collections.

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