“Parents always want to manage the narrative instead of letting kids write their own.”

The Central Library Brown Baggers book group met virtually on January 21 to discuss The Gifted School by Bruce Holsinger. 

The Gifted School follows a group of longtime friends and their respective families: imperfect husbands, quirky kids, and one big elephant in the room — there’s a new, incredibly selective gifted school in town — who will be accepted, and who will be left behind? Admission into the school takes on more heft as each woman begins to associate admission with her own worth and value as a parent and person. These ambitious (obsessive) parents are willing to sacrifice anything: marriage, career, friendship, or more, to get ahead. 

The first half of the meeting was spent discussing the book; many members had lively tales to tell about their own experiences with children or grandchildren going through gifted programs or magnet/charter schools, teaching at gifted primary schools or elite universities, and living in communities that felt eerily similar to the fictional Crystal, Colorado. The balance of drama and familiarity had the group agreeing that the book was indeed “compulsively readable.” That being said, there were complaints about length, and questions about what really drove the novel through its nearly 500 pages. In addition, while there were dozens of characters, the world created still felt small and insular — and not always in a good way. 

Bruce Holsinger himself (a Charlottesville resident and UVA professor) was able to join the group for the second half of its meeting, and shared great insights into his research and writing process, personal connection to the plot and characters, and what’s coming next. We discovered that Bruce’s parents were both teachers, and his kids grew up in Charlottesville schools, identified as “gifted.” Bruce himself is a “recovering psycho soccer dad” (his editor forced him to cut 10-15 pages of pure soccer writing) — but unlike his character Beck, he never blew up on the field. When living in Colorado, his kids were not yet in school, but that did not shield his family from the “high pressure parenting culture,” which he said gave him a lot of fodder for The Gifted School, a book he actually began sketching out and pondering many years before writing the first two books he published, both historical thrillers set in medieval England. It turned out to be perfect timing; The Gifted School was ultimately published right before the college admissions scandals that made headlines in 2019, and according to Bruce, contributed to his own book’s buzz and success. 

Nearly 30 Brown Baggers completed a digital poll after the December “potluck” meeting, and the group’s next round of book selections was determined. The new schedule was announced:

Brown Baggers selections June 2021 – May 2022

June 2021 – Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese

July – Tracks: A Woman’s Solo Trek Across 1,700 Miles of Australian Outback by Robyn Davidson

August – The Dutch House by Anne Patchett

September – A Perfect Spy by John le Carre

October – The Yellow House by Sarah Broom

November – My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante

December – No book (selection meeting & potluck hopefully!)


January 2022 – The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic of America’s Great Migration by Isabel Wilkerson

February – The Silent Patient by Alex Michaelides

March – Same Page title (community read)

April – The Last Castle: The Epic Story of Love, Loss, and American Royalty in the Nation’s Largest Home by Denise Kiernan

May – Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez

The Brown Baggers will meet again virtually on Thursday, February 18 at noon to discuss Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson.  Please email kfarrell@jmrl.org for details on how to participate from your computer or phone.

Additional Links:

As relates to Charlottesville City Schools and equity issues

Holsinger’s conversation with reader of audiobook version

Potential TV series

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