Review: Trust Exercise by Susan Choi

I had to force myself to finish this book, and that’s never a good thing. At times this book was nicely written and I found myself see-sawing between frustrated and absorbed. I knew from reviews that there were major changes in the plot and I wanted to see what happened.

Trust Exercise is about Sarah and David, two teenagers at a high school for the arts. The title refers to the exercises the students endure from their drama teacher, who is involved in their lives and relationships.  Sarah and David meet during an exercise in their drama class, and Mr. Kingsley prods Sarah and David, in front of their classmates, to explore their feelings for each other. When they meet, they are instantly in lust – or is it love?  It’s hard to tell, which I appreciated, since when you’re a teenager I think it’s hard to tell anyway. Sarah and David seem like fairly run of the mill teens, with problems relating to their parents, money, self-esteem, and communicating with each other honestly.

This is a very introspective book, where not a lot happens. Choi builds intrigue in a number of areas but the way this book is written, it’s never very clear what’s happening. Most of the book is seen through Sarah’s eyes, and her perception is fuzzy a lot of the time. Things just seem to happen around her, but not to her or because of her.

This is a book where none of the characters are likable, although usually that doesn’t bother me – I prefer gnarly, troubled characters to nice ones.  But here, I wasn’t sure who to like – everyone seemed abusive in some way, including the teacher.  I was intrigued by Sarah and David’s relationship because it felt real to me; they spend most of the book looking at each other but very rarely actually talk to each other.  But Sarah is also incredibly self-absorbed and not very nice to anyone, so I never found myself rooting for her or anyone else.

There is a shift in narrator about halfway through, and also a jump ahead in time.  I nearly dropped the book at that point (and would have if it wasn’t an ARC), because the new narrator is so annoying and it became really hard to follow.  And just when it started to make sense, the story-line became obvious.

I will say also that while the writing is really beautiful at times, it’s told in a stream-of-consciousness prose that is hard to read, if you’re someone who likes paragraphs and chapters.

All in all, this book felt pretentious to me.  I realize the critics like it, and some readers on Goodreads found it “mind-blowing”. A number of readers on Goodreads compared it to The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, another book I felt unable to appreciate. There are probably big ideas in this book I just didn’t get; and that’s how I felt reading it.

Note: I received a complimentary copy of this book from NetGalley and publisher Henry Holt and Co.  This book publishes April 9, 2019.

  3 comments for “Review: Trust Exercise by Susan Choi

  1. April 12, 2019 at 5:15 pm

    re your comment “they spend most of the book looking at each other but very rarely actually talk to each other” – that seems to be the way a lot of couples act these days, though actually they are not looking at each other but at their phones…….

  2. April 15, 2019 at 9:08 am

    It’s too bad the good writing parts didn’t carry the book—I usually say that I’ll read any story as long as the writing is good, but even good prose can’t save a weak plot. I also like knarly characters, but there has to be someone in the story that you can actually care about. These types of reviews are always the hardest to write—good job.

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