It took me a bit to follow the narrative shifts, even after I’d finished the novel.
Trust Exercise begins with a teenage girl at a high school for the performing arts and how the ups and downs of the experience and moving in and out of acceptance within the drama group (literally, drama; acting, stagecraft, theater, is what they specialize in), but most especially her love for another student. Their time as boyfriend and girlfriend ends relatively quickly, but hangs over it all.
Then, it’s revealed that what we just read was a novel by the now grown girl. It’s revealed by another classmate, who was composited, rather than directly portrayed, the in novel, who complains about that and about how, actually, the drama of those two teenage lovebirds was the swirling center about which everything seemed to revolve in the classroom.
Then, it’s all undone again. The second narration was as fictional(ized) as the first. A visiting group of English students and their teacher/chaperones might never have existed. The drama teacher was not actually gay, but even more predatory (in the novel that is the first part, he may have taken advantage of a male student).
Everything described actually happened. Mostly. Just rarely to and by the same people as in the earlier version.
It’s a brilliant book, but my main feeling is to be grateful I never have to live through high school again (and that our own drama program – I did four years of high school drama – was not nearly so bad).
Somewhat unexpectedly, I realized that this book, which I got from the library for my little one, is also by Susan Choi. I discovered it because a Facebook friend posted a link to books by and about the Asian-American experience for APIA History Month. It’s a beautiful, elegiac book of magical realism for elementary school children.