Published by Berkley on April 21, 2020
Source:Copy provided by publisher for review, via Netgalley
Every child's potential is regularly determined by a standardized measurement: their quotient (Q). Score high enough, and attend a top tier school with a golden future. Score too low, and it's off to a federal boarding school with limited prospects afterwards. The purpose? An improved society where education costs drop, teachers focus on the more promising students, and parents are happy.
Elena Fairchild is a teacher at one of the state's elite schools. When her nine-year-old daughter bombs a monthly test and her Q score drops to a disastrously low level, she is immediately forced to leave her top school for a federal institution hundreds of miles away. As a teacher, Elena thought she understood the tiered educational system, but as a mother whose child is now gone, Elena's perspective is changed forever. She just wants her daughter back.
And she will do the unthinkable to make it happen.
You ever take a second chance on an author whose first book you didn’t quite love? Happened to me, right here! Vox wasn’t awful, but it definitely wasn’t my favorite. But when I saw the synopsis for Master Class, I just knew I had to give the author another go. And I am SO glad I did! So consider this review a reminder of why it’s always nice to give second chances- and why I’ll certainly be picking up her next book!
Master Class drops us into a world where the only real measure of success is a “Q Score”. This score, in theory, is based solely on a person’s intelligence and ability to succeed academically. But of course, it’s more than that. Get a divorce? Lose points. Late for work? You’re getting docked. Poor? Forget it, you’ve got no chance of a high score. And so, like every other system designed to divide and disenfranchise, this one was working great for those at the top. Until one of its own began to see through the façade.
Elena is at the top of society. A teacher in a prestigious school, mother of two, and married to one of the head honchos of this system, she has been seemingly enjoying all the benefits the Q system has offered her. Only, behind the scenes, things aren’t as rosy. Her marriage is a sham, her husband being kind of The Worst™ in general, but especially to their younger daughter. And said younger daughter doesn’t really wish to follow this system, and struggles to maintain her scores. When the unthinkable happens, and Freddie’s score drops, she’s sent to a federally-run school in the midwest. And Elena can no longer turn a blind eye.
One of the greatest parts about this book is that I was able to understand Elena’s actions and decisions. And make no mistake, they are terrible decisions to make. And she’s been making them for awhile! At the start, I wondered why on earth she’d stay with Malcolm, who is actual garbage, but it all becomes clear as the story progresses. She also has to make what has to be the toughest decision a mother could be forced to make, whether to stay with her older daughter Anna, or go after Freddie. It’s an incredibly emotional story, and I could not help but feel for Elena all the way, despite some of her past mistakes. And really, her mistakes (and willingness to correct them) are a big part of what makes her so relatable and worthy of rooting for.
The book also illustrates the hows and the whys of the ways of the world. What led to such a system, and how it went so very wrong in the process. Elena is never alone in her journey either, though the decisions she must make are lonely. Her family (parents and grandma) are absolutely wonderful throughout the story, and their love and support keeps Elena going. She also meets some unlikely friends along the way who really do a great job of highlighting what is happening in other parts of the country.
But more than anything, this book is incredibly thought provoking. It asks questions that you may not quite know how to answer. Not only does it present great moral debates, but asks what is the measure of someone’s worth.
Bottom Line: Incredibly thought provoking and so emotionally driven, Elena is a compelling character whose journey will elicit many emotions, and many moral questions.