One of our recommended books for 2019 is Trust Exercise by Susan Choi

TRUST EXERCISE

A Novel


In the early 1980s, students at a highly competitive performing arts high school struggle and thrive in a rarified bubble, ambitiously pursuing their acting. When two freshmen, David and Sarah, fall headlong into love, their passion does not go unnoticed—or untoyed with—by anyone, especially not by their charismatic teacher, Mr. Kingsley.

The outside world fails to penetrate this school’s walls—until it does, in a shocking spiral of events that catapults the action forward in time and flips the premise upside-down. What the reader believes to have happened to David and Sarah and their friends is not entirely true—though it’s not false,

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In the early 1980s, students at a highly competitive performing arts high school struggle and thrive in a rarified bubble, ambitiously pursuing their acting. When two freshmen, David and Sarah, fall headlong into love, their passion does not go unnoticed—or untoyed with—by anyone, especially not by their charismatic teacher, Mr. Kingsley.

The outside world fails to penetrate this school’s walls—until it does, in a shocking spiral of events that catapults the action forward in time and flips the premise upside-down. What the reader believes to have happened to David and Sarah and their friends is not entirely true—though it’s not false, either. It takes until the book’s stunning coda for the final piece of the puzzle to fall into place—revealing truths that will resonate long after the final sentence.

As captivating and tender as it is surprising, Susan Choi’s Trust Exercise will incite heated conversations about fiction and truth, and about friendships and loyalties, and will leave readers with wiser understandings of the true capacities of adolescents and of the powers and responsibilities of adults.

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  • Henry Holt & Company
  • Hardcover
  • April 2019
  • 272 Pages
  • 9781250309884

Buy the Book

$27.00

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About Susan Choi

Susan Choi is author of the novels My Education, A Person of Interest, American Woman, and The Foreign Student. Her work has been a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize and the PEN/Faulkner Award and winner of the PEN/W.G. Sebald Award and the Asian-American Literary Award for fiction. With David Remnick, she co-edited Wonderful Town: New York Stories from The New Yorker. She’s received NEA and Guggenheim Foundation fellowships. She lives in Brooklyn.

Praise

“Book groups, meet your next selection. . . . Trust Exercise is fiction that contains multiple truths and lies… Choi has produced something uncommonly thought-provoking.―NPR

“This psychologically acute novel enlists your heart as well as your mind. [A] delicious and, in its way, rather delicate . . . phosphorescent examination of sexual consent.” The New York Times

Discussion Questions

1. Driving is a central theme throughout the first section of the book. What would a car and more freedom mean for Sarah and David? Does the ability to drive signify something beyond the ability to drive away from uncomfortable situations, and how would the story change if the characters could drive?

2. Ms. Rozot is new to the school and comforts Sarah after she breaks down. She tells Sarah that young people experience emotional pain more intensely than adults do. Has this been true in your own experience?

3. Sarah chooses to write about her high school experiences, though her version seems to differ from the actual events. What are some clues early on that Sarah’s story is not completely true?

4. The story breaks suddenly in the middle of the book. Were you able to stay grounded in the new sections?

5. Sarah makes the choice to make Mr. Kingsley gay in her version of the story, but in reality he is straight. How does this change the interactions he has with his female students?

6. How reliable of a narrator do we find Karen, versus Sarah? Do you think that either of their stories is accurate?

7. Though the novel is set far before the #MeToo movement, its exploration of consent and what it means to be a young person influenced by people in power is relevant to our conversations about consent today. How does this book illuminate those conversations, and what does it mean for a teenager to consent to adult situations in any era?

8. The characters in Trust Exercise often seem much older than fifteen in terms of sexuality and romantic relationships. Do you think older Sarah is embellishing her past sexuality to shock readers of her novel, or do we discount teenage sexuality as we get older?

9. How does Trust Exercise differ in its portrayal of a performing arts high school from previous portrayals, such as those in Fame or Glee?

10. Could the book be arranged differently? How might that change the way we read the story, and the extent to which we trust each narrator?