Girls with Bright Futures

September 1, 2020

Girls With Bright Futures is the sto­ry of three Seat­tle prep school moth­ers whose daugh­ters are locked in com­pe­ti­tion for a sin­gle spot at Stan­ford. As the com­pe­ti­tion heats up, one of the girls suf­fers a near-fatal acci­dent that sends this priv­i­leged com­mu­ni­ty into a spi­ral of pan­ic and accu­sa­tions, until one can’t help but won­der if there’s any line these fam­i­lies would­n’t cross to secure their daugh­ters’ futures. The book is a sus­pense­ful read with a side of satire that takes a deep dive into the col­lege indus­tri­al com­plex, income inequal­i­ty, and elite enti­tle­ment. While the reli­gious affil­i­a­tions of the nov­el­’s main char­ac­ters are not spec­i­fied, the authors are both Jew­ish and the book’s focus on elite high­er edu­ca­tion will like­ly res­onate with many Jew­ish families.

Discussion Questions

Cour­tesy of Source Books

WARN­ING: Spoil­er alert on ques­tions in this guide 
  1. When we enter the nov­el, Maren and Win­nie are hav­ing a tough con­ver­sa­tion with the Elliott Bay Acad­e­my (EBA) col­lege coun­selor regard­ing the Stan­ford ear­ly admis­sions process. What do you glean from this con­ver­sa­tion? How is this con­ver­sa­tion dif­fer­ent from how the oth­er moms and their daugh­ters learn about the Stan­ford news? What does this say about schools like EBA, their pol­i­tics, and how they operate?

  2. Maren and Win­nie planned to empha­size Winnie’s first-gen sta­tus as a hook” for col­lege admis­sions. What would col­lege admis­sions look like with­out this and oth­er hooks such as ath­let­ics, lega­cy, or devel­op­ment pri­or­i­ties? Are any aspects of this sys­tem fair? Is there an argu­ment for scrap­ping the whole sys­tem? If the sys­tem were 100 per­cent mer­it based, do you think par­ents would be any less man­ic about college?

  3. When Maren com­pares her­self to Ali­cia, Kel­ly, and the oth­er EBA par­ents, she strug­gles to feel like a well-con­nect­ed provider. Even Kel­ly, who is wealthy by every rea­son­able stan­dard, feels inad­e­quate in com­par­i­son to Ali­cia. How do Maren and Kel­ly han­dle these neg­a­tive self-comparisons?

  4. The three women in this book are vast­ly dif­fer­ent from one anoth­er. How­ev­er, they share a com­mon goal — secur­ing what’s best for their child. What do you make of the dynam­ic in which each character’s actions seemed to push anoth­er char­ac­ter to go to fur­ther lengths to achieve her goals? Where and why do you think they crossed a line? Is there any jus­ti­fi­ca­tion for their manipulations?

  5. There are moments of humor through­out the nov­el that speak to the ridicu­lous lengths the char­ac­ters will go to in order to get ahead. What was one of your favorite moments that made you think I can’t believe they did that? Have you ever encoun­tered a per­son or sit­u­a­tion that mir­rors the EBA par­ents’ behavior?

  6. Through­out the nov­el, Maren strug­gles with the trau­ma in her own past and Winnie’s ori­gin sto­ry. If you were in Maren’s posi­tion, would you have con­sent­ed to a face-to-face meet­ing with Chase and Nao­mi? If you were in Winnie’s posi­tion, would you have tak­en the donor match test to see if you could help Eli?

  7. Maren’s life is fun­da­men­tal­ly altered by Chase’s crim­i­nal assault, where­as Chase suf­fers few con­se­quences. Do you believe some­one who com­mits such a heinous act can be redeemed through future good behav­ior? How do you feel about Chase by the end of the nov­el? Does he have more or less integri­ty than Ali­cia? How about Kelly?

  8. DNA test­ing plays a role in the nov­el. Have you ever tak­en a con­sumer DNA test or allowed your child to be test­ed? What are some of the pos­i­tives and neg­a­tives asso­ci­at­ed with wide­spread use of this technology?

  9. Girls with Bright Futures ends with details about where the fam­i­lies are in one year. How do you think the moth­er-daugh­ter rela­tion­ships will evolve over the next few years? Will the moth­ers remain as involved in their daugh­ters’ col­lege lives, their deci­sions about jobs or grad­u­ate schools, or even their roman­tic relationships?

  10. Ulti­mate­ly, what do you think Girls with Bright Futures says about how privilege,opportunity, and ambi­tion cycle through our soci­ety? Do you see any par­al­lels between the nov­el and our cur­rent cul­ture? To your own life expe­ri­ences? Are par­ents today more amped up about col­lege com­pe­ti­tion than in pre­vi­ous gen­er­a­tions? If so, why? Are there any obvi­ous fix­es that would lessen the intensity?