'Early Decision' by Lacy Crawford

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It used to be that April was the cruelest month for high school seniors applying to colleges, but with rolling acceptance and early action, college admissions are a year-round affair — or lifetime campaign.

The admissions arms race might be a familiar notion and has been well-documented in the nonfiction "The Gatekeepers" by Jacques Steinberg and the fun novel "Admission" by Jean Hanff Korelitz. But Lacy Crawford, author of "Early Decision: Based on a True Frenzy," draws from her decadelong experience as a private counselor working with affluent and influential families in major cities such as Chicago, New York, London and San Francisco.

This is a fun book for Chicagoans, in particular, who might recognize the terrain, particularly along the lakefront from New Trier Township High School to the University of Chicago. At the novel's core is Anne, a tutor who specializes in the college essay. This up-close and personal perspective makes for a comical novel, but one with insight. Crawford integrates the drafts of Anne's students into the novel, and through the process of revision tries to help these students find their voices.

Although Anne does work with one student pro bono, the other students come from privilege and means. Though that sense of entitlement may be a bit off-key given the economy's current state, Crawford is trying to expose this life's emotional costs.

It might be easy to blame tiger parenting for this situation, but the process is more complicated than overinvested parents. By focusing on the essay-writing process, Crawford explores how we find our own stories — and suggests that a successful campaign depends on revision.

Elizabeth Taylor, literary editor

'Early Decision'

By Lacy Crawford

William Morrow, 294 pages, $25.99

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