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.
Girls with Bright Futures
September 1, 2020
Courtesy of Source BooksWARNING: Spoiler alert on questions in this guide
- 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?
- 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?
- 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?
- 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?
- 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?
- 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?
- 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?
- 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?
- 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?
- 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?
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