Review by Booklist Review
Professor Douglas' writing workshop is commonly known as the Circle, and it seems virtually everyone at Chandler, an exclusive coed boarding school in Connecticut, wants admittance to it. This is the story of the lucky five who have been admitted. There is Ramin, who fled his native Iran when it was discovered that he is gay; Beth, a closeted lesbian who is a resident townie; Freddy, a silver medalist in the junior Olympics who is bisexual; Spence, a gorgeous girl whose Indian mother is a celebrated model, and Brunson, whose relationship with Beth is weighed down by a betrayal that occurred when the two girls were roommates the previous year. As the action moves from student to student, readers get to know the five as they themselves become acquainted and begin to bond as a de facto family at the urging of Professor Douglas, who is the only out queer faculty member on campus. While writing a classic school story, Nazemian (Like a Love Story, 2019) does a superb job of giving his chief characters individual, idiosyncratic identities while also bringing the writing workshop to life. The students' encounter with a pedophile faculty member (not Professor Douglas) lends drama and suspense to this well-crafted, memorable story whose sympathetic characters will resonate with readers. Professor Douglas would surely give it an A.
From Booklist, Copyright (c) American Library Association. Used with permission.
Review by Publisher's Weekly Review
In 1999, five students with disparate identities are accepted into an exclusive writing club, the Circle, at elite Connecticut boarding school Chandler Academy. Beth Kramer, a cued-white townie who attends Chandler on scholarship, lives with anxiety and trichotillomania; Indian American Amanda "Spence" Spencer has a passion for acting; Ramin Golafshar recently immigrated from Iran to escape homophobic persecution, only to be targeted by bigoted classmates; high-achieving Sarah Brunson, cued as white, is still traumatized by her mother's cancer, now in remission; and Brazilian Cuban American Frederico "Freddy" Bello isn't sure he wants to continue pursuing a future in sports. The club provides a refuge from toxic campus culture, where Ramin is targeted with vicious hazing by bigoted classmates, and Beth and Sarah, both queer, feel safer remaining closeted. As the five hone their craft as writers, grow closer as friends, and form romantic relationships, they also confront their own insecurities--as well as Chandler's long, toxic legacy of bullying, homophobia, racism, and sexual assault. In a story told through the protagonists' alternating third-person viewpoints, not all characters are fully developed; still, Nazemian's (Like a Love Story) sharp social commentary makes this a riveting portrait of prep school life. Ages 13--up. Agent: John M. Cusick, Folio Literary. (Feb.)
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Review by School Library Journal Review
Gr 9 Up--Nazemian's latest skillfully unpacks the skeletons in a fictional New England boarding school's closet. Alternating perspectives with each chapter, the majority third-person narration gives insight into the interconnected experiences of five members of an exclusive campus writing group, the Circle. Former roommates Beth and Sarah are forced to confront their unresolved conflict from the previous year. New student Ramin becomes a target of the prefects in his dorm--prefects who are supposed to be popular, attractive Freddy's friends. Then there's Spence, the star actress slowly starting to see her mentor's true face. Together, the quintet makes their school's motto their mission: veritas vos liberabit ("the truth will set you free"). The more they learn about the truth, however, the more they want to set things right for everyone. At what cost? Inspired by Nazemian's own boarding school experiences, this gripping story reads like an insider's exposé into abusive school cultures and trauma. Centering the victims' point of view, Nazemian tackles tough topics like hazing and sexual assault, and justly delivers consequences to abusers. The diverse cast of central characters includes multiple queer characters and a range of other identities including white, Indian American, Latino, and Iranian. Pop culture references scattered throughout the story expertly evoke the late-1990s setting. An epilogue gives necessary closure and a glimpse into characters' futures. VERDICT Haunting truths and compelling storytelling make for an unforgettable, important read. For all teen collections.--Alec Chunn
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Review by Horn Book Review
Chandler Academy is a posh Connecticut boarding school with a hallowed reputation, but with a thinly veiled culture of hazing, bullying, and homophobia and zero interest in changing long-established "traditions." The story, which mostly takes place in 1999, is revealed through the alternating narratives of five students -- "townie" Beth, who is anxious about belonging; her outgoing former roommate Sarah; legacy student and budding actress Spence; Olympic hopeful Freddy; and Ramin, a newcomer from Iran, who is gay. The five protagonists are all accepted into the Circle, a selective, prestigious writing workshop. Through the Circle, the young people explore their personal truths, using the power of story to make sense of complicated emotions and forming deep bonds. When sexual misconduct by a revered teacher comes to light, it takes concerted action on the part of the Circle members to initiate change. Despite the inclusion of emotionally charged topics of physical and sexual abuse, Nazemian's novel is an uplifting and positive coming-of-age exploration of friendship, love, and creativity and how these things can help individuals heal and set themselves free to formulate their own legacies. Luann Toth March/April 2022 p.(c) Copyright 2022. The Horn Book, Inc., a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
(c) Copyright The Horn Book, Inc., a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
Review by Kirkus Book Review
Every year teens enter prestigious Chandler Academy, a Connecticut boarding school known for setting young people up to do great things. Among the greatest honors is selection into the Circle, a cloistered creative writing workshop run by the mysterious professor Douglas. Students from all walks of life are hungry for a spot. Those chosen in the fall of 1999 couldn't be more varied: biracial Spence, a White and Indian American queen bee struggling with impossibly high standards; Cuban and Brazilian American Freddy, thoughtful and longing to be more than a jock; Ramin, a sensitive gay Iranian immigrant; Brunson, a White closeted lesbian and overachiever; and Beth, a White girl who is an outcast both for her anxiety and townie status. As the members of the Circle bond, becoming like family, they share their own secrets and discover much larger and more harmful ones having to do with student well-being that Chandler has kept for years. While doing vital work in discussing issues of sexual assault, hazing, and rampant homophobia, the story struggles in other ways. Characters often feel interchangeable due to the third-person--present point of view that renders them more a collection of explained thoughts and traits than organic people (the novel is bookended by a first-person prologue and epilogue set in 2008). Characters' backgrounds are in some cases touched upon too briefly, but the sweet friendships and romances formed by the group are touching. Exposes important issues with straightforward clarity. (content warning, resources) (Fiction. 13-18) Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.
Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.