A Review of Personal Statement by Jason Odell Williams
By Caitlin Donovan
Personal Statement follows three high school seniors and one twenty-something young woman with a job in politics. All of them happen to come together, toting their own personal ambitions along with them, for the volunteer effort when a hurricane threatens to hit Connecticut.
The book boasts a cast of characters with diverse backgrounds and personalities. Emily is a young Korean-American woman with an aggressive personality and her eyes set on boosting her cred for Harvard. She drags her best friend, Rani, along with her for the volunteer effort. Robert is a young black man who also wants to boost his resume and is planning on going abroad. The final member of the cast is Alexis, a Jewish woman who’s trying to make her mark in politics and finds herself suddenly working as an advisor for the man who is aiming to be the Democratic presidential candidate for 2016. The books follows a structure of cycling between the four main characters’ points of view for each chapter.
The diverse cast goes nicely with the book’s theme of academic competition, something that people from all backgrounds find themselves entangled in. The story also tackles issues like race, sexuality and the “boys-club mentality” in politics with a deft hand.
The writing is fun and snappy. There are some stilted lines, but for the most part the dialogue and character interactions feel authentic. The author does a decent job writing teenagers in all their openly self-absorbed and impulsive glory. The writing style is breezy and all the characters had distinct voices and developed as people.
There are some unfortunate stereotypes in the book, such as the academically driven young Asian woman and a gay boy who enjoys saying the word “fabulous”. The author’s viewpoint that the current generation was apathetic and self-absorbed came off as a little preachy on occasion as well.
However, the book holds together well overall as a simple and solid story that explores the academic ambition of young people. It’s recommended as a character driven novel that’s both an easy read and an interesting examination of academic competition.