I'm almost done with The Overachievers, by Alexandra Robbins. If anyone has read Pledged, The Secret Life of Sororities, also by Robbins, and enjoyed it, you'll like this book, too. Robbins has a way of integrating herself into a culture, painting a picture of what life is like for the participants. However, she can also take herself out and talk directly to the reader. Robbins has been criticized for being biased in her writing, but this doesn't bother me much. Maybe because I always agree with her.
The Overachievers follows a group of high school students who strive for straight A's, throw themselves into numerous extracurricular activities, stay up late studying, take the SATs multiple times - all to make themselves look well-rounded and superior on their college applications, in return fighting depression, stress, sleep deprivation and peer pressure . While these kids push themselves to be perfect, they're not the only ones. Robbins examines parental pressure on kids, parental pressure on teachers, administrative pressure on teachers, college admissions pressure on administrators and government pressures (No Child Left Behind). Robbins also goes back to the beginning, when expecting parents put the name of their unborn child on the waiting list for their city's best, private preschool.
The book is comprehensive and full of facts, but reads like a novel. As someone who did well in high school and college, made friends, played in band, etc., I was also told just to do my best. In the end, grades don't matter all that much. Happiness comes from somewhere else.