Saturday, August 25, 2018

WE REGRET TO INFORM YOU: An Overachiever's Guide to College Rejection by Ariel Kaplan

This book was provided to me by the publisher in exchange for an honest review. This in no way shaped or forms my opinions of the novel. Thank you Penguin Random House and the wonderfully generous people at Underlined for the opportunity.

AUTHOR: Ariel Kaplan -- Website | Twitter
PUBLISHED: August 21, 2018 by Knopf Books For Young Readers (Penguin Random House)
GENRE: Young Adult Contemporary, Mystery
PAGES: 352
Find it on Goodreads

Mischa Abramavicius is a walking, talking, top-scoring, perfectly well-rounded college application in human form. So when she's rejected not only by the Ivies, but her loathsome safety school, she is shocked and devastated. All the sacrifices her mother made to send her to prep school, the late nights cramming for tests, the blatantly resume-padding extracurriculars (read: Students for Sober Driving) ... all that for nothing.

As Mischa grapples with the prospect of an increasingly uncertain future, she questions how this could have happened in the first place. Is it possible that her transcript was hacked? With the help of her best friend and sometimes crush, Nate, and a group of eccentric techies known as "The Ophelia Syndicate," Mischa launches an investigation that will shake the quiet community of Blanchard Prep to its stately brick foundations.

I remember my college application process and I'll tell you this much: I didn't put nearly as much effort as I should have. My dream school -- University of Michigan -- was ruled out for me in my freshman year when I had mono for four months and had to teach myself everything and ended up getting an incomplete in geometry, setting me back behind everyone in my class that would eventually take AP Calculus together. And in a small school like mine, where every little detail counted, that was a big one.

When I found out a school nearby to U of M -- Eastern Michigan University -- offered some great scholarship opportunities, I decided that was the school for me. It was close enough for me to visit home often, I could keep dancing and teaching at my dance studio, and maybe I'd even be able to transfer to EMU. Oh, and it helped that when my boyfriend, who was a year ahead of me in school decided to go there, too, in advance of my application process, that was basically the icing on the cake. Like a lot of icing. So much icing that the cake was more frosting than not.

I don't regret going to EMU -- I met some of my favorite people there and was in a sorority and did a lot of things that really changed my life. But when my brother started doing his application process a few years later, it became clear to me that I hadn't put nearly enough thought into mine. I did get into a few other places because I needed back ups in case EMU for some reason didn't take me. But I didn't care when I got into them and when one of those admittance letters came first, I didn't care. And for the record, I didn't graduate from EMU because of health problems. I've still yet to finish my degree. And sometimes I wonder if I'd chosen some place else if maybe I wouldn't have lost my momentum, as I seemed to have done by my fifth senior year.

Long story short, the college application process that goes on now for seniors is NOTHING like what mine was. It wasn't this big day or week where everyone starts getting offers. Even if I'd applied to some other schools or done some real research, it was a waiting game -- waiting for mail to arrive to tell us the result. It wasn't all done by email. It wasn't even like that during my brother's college application process. But I know it's real because I've coached at high schools and I have seen the anxiety and devastation and the celebrations that those weeks bring to high school seniors. So reading about it was really interesting.

This book is incredibly smart and shockingly witty. Mischa's narrative is funny and quick. If you loved the quick repartee of Gilmore Girls, you'll love this book. It moves fast and Mischa is a very worthy narrative. The mystery element is also really entertaining. It's basically a whodunnit and the ultimate culprit was NEVER on my list of suspects. If you enjoyed One of Us is Lying, you'll really enjoy We Regret to Inform You. It's a quick moving mystery that you can't put down, and though it doesn't involve murder, it also doesn't lack an element of excitement.

I also loved that this is a very diverse book. Mischa works with the Ophelia Syndicate to try and crack the case of who tanked her college chances, and the Ophelias are a group of super computer whizzes, professional level coders, and hackers. This is so incredibly important! We need more women who code and who are into the different computer sciences and engineering. And that they've learned and taught themselves is really, really inspiring.

The LGBTQ+ community is also represented here -- Nate himself is bisexual and when Mischa met him and first developed a crush on him, she learned her had a boyfriend, so she stifled those feelings away.

I gave this book 5 HEARTS! I loved it and I read it in about six hours. I absolutely couldn't put it down. My mom was watching me devour it all day long!

Things start to get spoilery here -- you've been warned!

So here's the nitty gritty of how it all happened ...

The title of the book was obviously a giveaway as to how things would go for Mischa. And the mystery element of it was really interesting to me.

Sure enough, as acceptance day is on the horizon, Mischa doesn't even get into the back-up school she absolutely loathes. And she cannot for the life of her figure out why she didn't get in ANYWHERE, especially Georgetown, which is where she'd dreamed of going for years.

The book makes several references to Shakespearean literature, especially when it comes to the Ophelia Syndicate, made up of Emily, Shira, and Beth, three girls who are super hackers and know their way around the school's administrations servers and hard drives pretty well. Since everything for college applications is now done digitally, right down to transcripts and recommendation letters, they're sure they can pick up the trail that left Mischa college-less. Soon, Mischa is in the thick of it with them, and so is Nate, her best friend and someone who she might just be in love with, but hasn't really had the time to play out those feelings in her head or her heart, much less with Nate himself.

Mischa's positive that her arch-rival, Meredith, who has been obsessed with one-upping her (but never actually successful in doing it) is behind it. She got into Harvard, Princeton, and Yale.

But what they end up discovering is something none of them -- including Meredith -- could've prepared for. When it turns out the school has been orchestrating a sort of ring of miseducation amongst the prospective students and the colleges they applied to, they are shocked. Essentially, the school is giving inflated transcripts and recommendations to those students who donate more (like Meredith and Nate) and giving dirty transcripts and accusing them of false crimes in their recommendations to those students whose families give less (like Mischa and another student who donate less and are on scholarships).

Even knowing that this will effect his fate at Emory, his dream school, Nate, the Ophelias, Mischa, and surprisingly, Meredith, band together to catch the headmaster in the act. The only downside is that Meredith finagles the situation to make sure she loses nothing and is championed as a the poster child for solving the mystery and obtaining proof of the crime, even though she theoretically had to some acceptances to lose. That frustrated me. But I do love a book where the protagonist and antagonist have to work together for a common goal.

Despite getting into her dream school, Mischa and Nate decide to take a gap year (another thing I think I could've benefited from, but was not nearly as trendy as it is now) and road trip all over the country before settling down into their chosen colleges, having realized that yes, they ARE in love with each other. I loved that they didn't realize they were in love 'til near the end of the book, but also that it didn't weigh down the plot. It wasn't something they were consistently focusing on. The romance was really not a major plot line at all, just something affirmed at just the right time in the novel.

This book is everything a YA contemporary novel with a mysterious twist should be, from beginning to end, and I can't stress enough how fun and fast the plot moves.

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