“It’s impossible to know what you would do to escape a shitty marriage and give your daughters a fair shot at success. Would you pay money? Trade the comfort of your house and home? Lie, cheat, or steal?”
– Opening of Master Class
Master Class is a science fiction novel set in a version of the United States that has embraced standardized testing to such an extent that every aspect of a child’s life is determined by how well or how poorly they perform on them. There are three tiers of schools, one for the top students, one for the average students, and one for everybody else. Elena is a teacher at an elite school. She also has two daughters, one at a top school and one at an average school. She has a nice life, if you discount the fact that her husband is the worst, but when one of her daughters fails a test, everything changes. Suddenly it’s her daughter being sent away to a mysterious boarding school in the middle of nowhere, and Elena begins to rethink her entire life as she struggles to get her daughter back.
The best thing about this book was the tension in it. From the beginning, it was obvious that everything was much worse than the main character was aware of, that awful things were happening, and that terrible things were very likely going to happen to the children who were disappearing, but without having any real answers, my mind was left to its own devices. I turned page after page, just gobbling up the story in the race to find the answers, even as a part of me didn’t want to find the horrors that I knew were waiting. The story unweaves bit by bit, with stakes increasing all the time, and it definitely holds the attention right up to the final page.
I did find the setup to be a little unbelievable by the end, but the fact that the story is so clearly drawing on true historical events that are little known about is definitely chilling. While I didn’t end up thinking that this exact thing could happen, I did wonder whether something like it could, and that’s a huge part of the draw of this kind of book for me. I also appreciate that it is drawing attention to these issues, as I also believe that some books can be very important in sparking conversations and raising awareness of important topics. Some books can have a real and positive affect on the world, and I think this may be one of them.
Overall, I think you’ll enjoy this book if you like the type of book that asks “what if” while simultaneously suggesting that such things could really happen in our future. It’s a story about motherhood and redemption and breaking out of a bad situation, as well as about the US school system. I would recommend it to anyone who is interested in these concepts and is not afraid to explore some of the darker sides of history and human nature.