I Left My Homework in the Hamptons by Blythe Grossberg (BOOK REVIEW) 3/5
A nonfiction read, I picked up “I Left My Homework in the Hamptons” because I thought hearing stories about how students from rich families handle school would be interesting. I liked the idea of seeing what tales Grossberg could spin, what experiences she had. Mostly, I wanted to see personal stories of real people who live differently than I do, with them having grown up as part of the 1% while I grew up in a moderate middle-class household. While Grossberg’s take did have these stories, following endearing students such as Sophie and Lily, it also had a lot that I felt was unnecessary.
One of my biggest pet peeves about this novel was how much it felt like a critical essay- or even, more simply, a love letter- to “The Great Gatsby” by F. Scott Fitzgerald. Having recently read the classic novel myself, I was thrilled to see it referenced… at first. After the third, fourth, fifth time, my excitement in hearing about Gatsby dwindled. Particularly towards the end, it seemed like the final paragraph of several chapters went back to speak about Gatsby, using it as a focal point of comparison. This infuriated me to no end. Grossberg was attempting to liken the lifestyles and thinking of the elite 1% to those in Gatsby, but why only show Gatsby? This is someone who is widely varied in her literature, who has taught students for decades.
Why not quote “The Secret Garden”, with contrary-Mary’s uppity attitude that she was better than others? Why not the social differences of “To Kill a Mockingbird”, or the vanity of “The Picture of Dorian Gray”? Why not echo the morality of those in “Jane Eyre”, with the affluent getting special privilege and the servants staying silent? I understand the desire to link her experiences to a specific novel, and she clearly favors “The Great Gatsby”, but I would have rather seen the author flex her knowledge of literature by using different examples, rather than obsessively going back to Gatsby’s desires. There were only a handful of tiny references to other novels within the book, usually based on what her students were learning and not on the similarities.
Not only was the love for Gatsby apparent, but so was Grossberg’s view on how to fix things. There were several points in the novel where she expressed how she thought the system could be changed, or the issues of how things are. While I didn’t mind this, it wasn’t entirely expected.
However dull certain parts were, most of the book was interesting enough to make reading easy. There was a great follow-through on past students and what became of them. In fact, there was a charming narrative on the disappearing magic of being a child and how having an overly-structured life can ruin people. I really enjoyed Grossberg’s recollection of what her students were good at, versus what they actually ended up doing. She noted, in particular, how beautiful the writing skills of some of her students became, but how she has yet to see any of them write a book. As a writer/reader myself, I know how rare it is to see someone with truly good writing, and I could relate to Grossberg’s disappointment of her students following in their parent’s footsteps instead of following their own skills and interests. All-in-all, this book is rather sad when you think about what it shows of our society and of life among our youth, especially when considering what expectations are placed amongst them.