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Book Review: Admissions by Kendra James

Today I’m reviewing Admissions by Kendra James, a memoir of being a black student in a mostly white elite boarding school.

About the book

I received this book from Hachette Audio as an audiobook copy in exchange for an honest review.

Rating: ★★★★☆

Genre: Non-fiction, memoir

Content warning: Racism

Summary: Early on in Kendra James’ professional life, she began to feel like she was selling a lie. As an admissions officer specializing in diversity recruitment for independent prep schools, she persuaded students and families to embark on the same perilous journey she herself had made—to attend cutthroat and largely white schools similar to The Taft School, where she had been the first African-American legacy student only a few years earlier. Her new job forced her to reflect on her own elite education experience, and to realize how disillusioned she had become with America’s inequitable system.

In Admissions, Kendra looks back at the three years she spent at Taft, chronicling clashes with her lily-white roommate, how she had to unlearn the respectability politics she’d been raised with, and the fall-out from a horrifying article in the student newspaper that accused Black and Latinx students of being responsible for segregation of campus. Through these stories, some troubling, others hilarious, she deconstructs the lies and half-truths she herself would later tell as an admissions professional, in addition to the myths about boarding schools perpetuated by popular culture.

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Review

Admissions was an interesting deep-dive into the elite boarding school life from the perspective of a former student. Not only that, but it also explored race in this majoritarily white context.

As someone who hasn’t studied in the context of a boarding school and that is white, I found it really interesting to learn about the convergence of these experiences. Most of it isn’t exactly unexpected, but reading about it from the point of view of someone’s lived experience was definitely captivating. Kendra James shares her journey of boarding school year by year, touching on a variety of subjects and always through the lens of race.

Additionally, after recounting these years—and sometimes while in the middle of doing so—the author shares some of her reflections on her past. In these, just as in the topics she discusses, there is a variety. Her observations go from something more surface level to the deeply racist nature of the type of institutions she has spent a good portion of her life in.

The best part of this book was the writing voice. It wasn’t overly complicated and it felt like hearing about a friend’s life. The audiobook was perfectly narrated once again giving the sensation of listening to a friend tell a story. It was very engaging and, in my opinion, the perfect way to consume this book.

All in all, Admissions was an enjoyable memoir. Personally, it gave me a view of two experiences that I have not lived in a way that was fascinating and entertaining while managing to discuss some serious topics.

About the author

Kendra James (she/her) was a founding editor at Shondaland.com where she wrote and edited work for two years. She has been heard and seen on NPR and podcasts including “Thirst Aid Kit,” “Three Swings,” “Star Trek: The Pod Directive,” “The Canon,” and “Al Jazeera.” Her writing has been published widely from Elle, Marie Claire, Women’s Health Magazine, Lenny, The Verge, Harpers, Catapult, and The Toast, among others.

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Have you read Admissions? Do you have any experiences in common with the author?

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