This novel tells the story of a teen-ager under pressure to gain admission to an Ivy League college.
The author served as the headmaster of an elite boarding school near Princeton, NJ, and we get the sense that he writes from personal experience with some of the teens who attend these schools. Bunting later became Superintendent of Virginia Military Institute.
From Bunting's biography at the VMI web site: "His novel _All Loves Excelling_, is set in an upstate New York boarding school. The book chronicles [a] year in the life of a senior girl at the school - a victim of misshapen parental ambition and of a school for whom students have become dehumanized units of calculation, prestige, and measurement. It is a savage commentary on the culture of today's elite boarding schools and the casualties of that culture."
This is a very thought provoking read on the pressures of high school students to excell. Tess Bahringer is determined to get her above average daughter, Amanda, into Dartmouth. To that means, Tess enrolls Amanda as a Post Graduate at prestigious St Matthews Prep School. Amanda never questions her mother or rebells against her desires. Joey, Tess's husband, allows Tess to have her way though he has his doubts about all the pressure that Tess puts on Amanda. Tess is used to having her way and her husband and daughter are used to letting her call the shots. Amanda quickly suspects that St Matthews is not going to be the golden ticket to Dartmouth. Working as hard as she can, her grades are mostly Bs and the St Matthews academic couselor urges her to apply to other schools such as Colgate, Hamilton and Emory. Tess refuses to consider that Amanda will not get into Dartmouth. To please her mother, Amanda works tirelessly on her academics, piano and cross country running. She has no time for friends and sadly she reflects that the only thing she misses about home is her cat, Cleopatra. As Amanda descends into anorexia and self medication, the school nurse is concerned but apparently this is something she sees a lot of and is not really concerned enough to follow through with Amanda. Amanda has also become fixated on an ascetic poet and begins to live within a strict schedule such as the poet describes in his diary. As spring approaches, Amanda is accepted at Hamilton but her counselor tells her that Dartmouth is most likely out of the question. Knowing that her mother will never accept this "failure", Amanda makes a decision that will rock her parents to the core. This is one of those books that will stay with you a few days as you reflect on it. In todays society, no child is allowed to be average...the pressure to perform is great.