Summary and book reviews of His Favorites by Kate Walbert

His Favorites

by Kate Walbert

His Favorites by Kate Walbert X
His Favorites by Kate Walbert
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     Not Yet Rated
  • Published:
    Aug 2018, 160 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Lisa Butts

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About this Book

Book Summary

From the highly acclaimed, bestselling National Book Award finalist and author of A Short History of Women, a searing and timely novel about a teenaged girl, a charismatic teacher, and a dark, open secret.

They were on a lark, three teenage girls speeding across the greens at night on a "borrowed" golf cart, drunk. The cart crashes and one of the girls lands violently in the rough, killed instantly. The driver, Jo, flees the hometown that has turned against her and enrolls at a prestigious boarding school. Her past weighs on her. She is responsible for the death of her best friend. She has tipped her parents' rocky marriage into demise. She is ready to begin again, far away from the accident.

Taut, propulsive, and devastating, His Favorites reveals the interior life of a young woman determined to navigate the treachery in a new world. Told from her perspective many years later, the story cooly describes a series of shattering events and the system that failed to protect her. Walbert, who brilliantly explored a century of women's struggles for rights and recognition in her award-winning A Short History of Women, limns the all-too-common violations of vulnerability and aspiration in the lives of young women in this suspenseful short novel. From the publisher of the classic A Separate Peace, His Favorites is an urgent book by a "wickedly smart writer" (The New York Times Book Review) whose work is "fascinating, moving and significant" (The Washington Post).

Excerpt
His Favorites

This is not a story I've told before. No one would believe me. I mean, really believe me. They would get that look and nod. They would ask certain questions that suggested I was somehow culpable or that I was making most of it up out of nothing—just girlish fantasies and daydreams. Hysteria. They would wonder how my actions might have precipitated everything or encouraged everything, especially given why I was at Hawthorne at all. I had a reputation for drama then. I also had an appetite for alcohol and marijuana, as did my parents, although we would have gotten along just fine in our individual clouds of stupor, my parents in the living room and me in my bedroom, until the night I stole and wrecked a golf cart, stoned, with my friends Carly and Stephanie.

Carly and Stephanie were my best friends, Carly a girl from an Italian family who owned mushroom barns in Farmingdale, the stench particularly strong the last weeks of summer, when they opened the ...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
  1. How is the epigraph from Willa Cather's My Mortal Enemy, "But you may have a past already? The darkest ones come early," a fitting opening for His Favorites?
  2. Jo describes the golf course as "all of it designed for entrapment" (page 10). What other places and situations in the novel seem built to ensnare? How so?
  3. What do you think Jo's mother is feeling after the accident? And after Jo is accepted at Hawthorne? What drives her choices for herself and for Jo?
  4. Many of Jo's memories of Hawthorne, outside of Master, involve Charlotte P. and Cynthia. What do they each mean to Jo? How do they bookend her experiences at Hawthorne?
  5. Discuss the techniques Master uses to groom Jo and manipulate her circumstances at Hawthorne to...
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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

Walbert's sentences are long and complex, but her language is precise to an almost suffocating degree, words wrapping around words like she is tying a noose. The scene of the initial tragedy (which occurs on a golf course) is taut and bursting with detail: "It is a moonless night or a night of a new, absent moon: everything waiting for the beginning of something else—pond fountains full blast against the rising din of crickets and peepers and that late-summer whir I've never been able to place, that ominous insect sound at summer's end, an explosion of noise abruptly extinguished." It is a summer night of teenage hijinks, but the description is claustrophobic, filled with eerie foreshadowing of what's to come.   (Reviewed by Lisa Butts).

Full Review Members Only (645 words).

Media Reviews

Kirkus Reviews
...Walbert doesn't bring much that's new or thought-provoking to this familiar tale. Part of the trouble is formal...Her new book is being marketed as a novel; at 160 pages, it's more of a novella, but what it really feels like is a short story that outgrew the form without quite becoming something else...Most problematic, though, is the emotional flatness of the story, which is particularly disappointing from a writer as skilled at illuminating the inner lives of women as Walbert. Timely but not the author's finest work.

Booklist
A sharp look at school days that are anything but idyllic...Walbert's slim, impactful novel, distinguished as all her work is by beautiful writing and a wealth of literary allusions, could not be more timely.

Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. Her story, filled with rage and regret and intensified by its searing portrait of self-aware, self-destructive teenage girls, provides a case history in male-female relationships built on an imbalance of power.

Author Blurb Ann Patchett, author of Commonwealth
His Favorites is exactly the book for our times. That Kate Walbert has managed to write a novel that is riveting, terrifying, and yet always charmingly buoyant, speaks volumes to how well she understands women. If you're trying to figure out what's going on, how these things happen, read this book.

Author Blurb Dorothy Wickenden, Executive Editor of The New Yorker and author of Nothing Daunted
His Favorites is the first work of fiction to capture the disgust and rage most of us have just begun to come to terms with.

Author Blurb Joan Silber, award-winning author of Improvement
The writing is so beautiful and exact - so startling in every sentence - that His Favorites took me way past what I thought I knew. This is a novel that shines with a laser beam, lighting what needs to be lit.

Author Blurb Carolyn Cooke, author of Daughters of the Revolution
The smartest, most brutally true novel I've read this year. His Favorites reveals Kate Walbert's dazzling ability to render the unsayable.

Author Blurb Cory Oldweiler, AM New York
An unflinching addition to the #MeToo conversation.

Reader Reviews

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Beyond the Book

#MeToo's Founder Tarana Burke

Tarana BurkeWhile Kate Walbert's His Favorites takes place in the late 1970s, the novel seems perfectly aligned to the present moment as stories about men in positions of power sexually harassing and assaulting women break on a near daily basis. Certainly this is not a new phenomenon, and while the #MeToo movement gained traction in response to these abuses of power in 2017, this powerful two-word phrase was actually conceived in 2006 by an activist named Tarana Burke who has devoted her life to empowering African-American girls and women, particularly those who have suffered sexual abuse.

Burke traces the phrase back to an incident that occurred while she was a counselor at a youth camp. A young teen, who Burke calls "Heaven," approached her and ...

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