“His Favorites by Kate Walbert

Genre:          General Fiction   His Favorites
Publisher:    Scribner
Pub. Date:   Aug. 14, 2018

“His Favorites” is a slice of life story about the wealthy with two different plotlines connected by the female protagonist, Jo.  It is written by the acclaimed American author Kate Walbert.  Similar to Curtis Sittenfeld’s debut novel, “Prep,” this tale is a powerful coming of age story that spotlights (no matter how rich you are) the vulnerability and powerlessness of female girls.  Unlike “Prep,” there is no laughter in “Favorites.”  This is a sad story which might have been easier to read with a little tension-cutting humor.  Walbert is also writing on the same female issues that follow girls into womanhood.  The story is narrated by an adult Jo, who is recounting painful memories.  In the 1970s, she was twice traumatized.

At fifteen, she and her two childhood best friends go on a drunken joyride in a golf cart. Jo is the driver.   The ride ends tragically when the golf cart flips over.  Two girls are left laughing and the third girl is left dead.  The author asks the reader to question if the tragedy is a type of privileged entrapment.  The girls are usually unsupervised.  They live on the grounds of a country club.   They know where the golf cart keys are kept.  Did Jo really do anything that most teens in her position wouldn’t have done?   I don’t think so, do you?  Nevertheless, after the death of her friend, Jo becomes the neighborhood’s version of a human pariah—Avoided.  Detested.  The dead girl’s mother, who is like a second mother to Jo, spits on her.  Her parents pretty much desert her.  Scared, alone, grieving her friend and brimming with endless guilt, she is sent off to a boarding school in New England.  I felt real anger at how heartlessly Jo is punished for being a teenager.

The second plotline begins at the boarding school.  It feels as if Jo is once again set up by affluent adults.   Isolated from family and friends she is easy pickings to become the next favorite (there are/were many) of her 34-year-old male teacher.  She has an unwanted sexual relationship with him.  The author now goes into society’s sexual unfavorable biases towards females of all ages.  She nails why Jo or the other girls didn’t say anything to the school’s authorities about their teacher’s sexual misconduct.  Who would believe them?  He is a powerful man and an academic award-winning teacher.  Who would believe them?  Everyone knows that girls and women have embellished imaginations. Who would believe them?  None of the girls actually said no.  They were so manipulated into the relationship that they themselves never realized that they were abused.  Of course, they were but, The Me Too Movement is decades away.  Hopefully, the days of powerful men getting off scot-free are nearing an end.

The reader never learns how adult Jo coped living with so much undeserved shame.  Was the rest of her life a wipeout like another one of the professor’s favorites?   Adult Jo has an unexpected encounter with her.  The other favorite now suffers from a cocaine problem.  (Possible Spoiler) After this meeting, the author teases the reader with the idea, ‘that the power might finally be in Jo’s hands.’  But, we really don’t know.   I have mixed feelings on the novel’s conclusion.  I think I would have preferred going back full circle to the story’s beginning with an explained ending.  But then again, Walbert’s ending gives me food for thought.  In a weird way, it is similar to the last scene in the last episode of another fictional wealthy family—“The Sopranos.”  Does, Tony live or doesn’t he?  We are left with the same question regarding Jo.

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I received this Advance Review Copy (ARC) novel from the publisher at no cost in exchange for an honest review.

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