Inappropriation

Ecco  2018

 

There’s much to admire in Lexi Freiman’s debut novel, Inappropriation, a satirical coming-of-age story set against the backdrop of a prestigious private school. Our protagonist is Ziggy Klein, a teenager trying to find her way through an echelon of social cliques at said school: there are the scholarship students; the “brilliant Asians,” as she refers to them; the boarders; the high-achievers; and the Cates, a trio of wealthy, unfriendly blondes who reign over the school.

Ziggy, who transfers from a Jewish school, pins herself an outcast, and carries a kind of embarrassment over her grandmother, a Holocaust survivor. She is also consumed by an alter-ego she refers to as “Hitler Youth,” who, for example, pushes her to brush her teeth harder. Ziggy’s mother is a psychotherapist and feminist who stages “intergenerational menstruation parties” at her house on a regular basis. Ziggy’s father is an accountant who generally listens to Ziggy’s mother. Everything, in Ziggy’s world, is on satirical steroids.

Ziggy eventually befriends two other outcasts: Tessa, a pale, overweight student with a prosthetic arm and Lex, a dark-skinned girl adopted from Bangladesh. Both Tessa and Lex are preoccupied with cataloging the hierarchy of their school as well as defining the political correctness of their stratosphere. In this way, they find relevance in themselves and irrelevance to those they dislike or dislike them. Through Tessa and Lex, Ziggy is introduced to Donna Haraway’s “A Cyborg Manifesto,” which becomes a misunderstood touchstone for all three girls, and thus flows a narrative steeped in modern identity politics, social media and teenage angst.

Freiman is a deft writer. Early on Ziggy tries to imagine what she could possibly post on Instagram that would be worthy: “The way a radiant sunset catches the down on her side-face? An after-school snack of whitefish salad?” Later, studying her classmates in the school lounge she thinks, “It seems some part of them wants to be watched, even preyed upon. It might be the same vanity Ziggy felt when her Jewish school got security guards. The confusing flattery of being a target.”

What’s equally exciting and terrifying about Inappropriation, and about Ziggy’s world in this elite environment, is its oversaturation. Ziggy and her peers live in a world where information is instant, where social media can both catapult one’s image as well as villainize it—all in a day. Perhaps because of this, I didn’t feel the affinity towards Ziggy that I’d hoped to. There was something sterile about this novel and its characters that had me struggling to care. Still, Freiman is on to something—the world she serves up, I would argue, isn’t that far off from our own. Freiman is an author to watch.



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