School is back in session. After the homeroom bell rings, grab one (or both) of these novels and enjoy a quick, humorous tutorial on how not to act while educating the next generation. Debut authors Gill Hornby and Lacy Crawford deliver a welcome dose of playground escapism.

British author Gill Hornby got the idea for her first novel, The Hive, while reading Rosalind Wiseman’s Queen Bees and Wannabes, a nonfiction book that Tina Fey used as the basis for her hit movie Mean Girls. In The Hive, Hornby observes that teenage girls aren’t the only catty females at school: Their mothers can be worse.

The children who attend the upscale British academy of St. Ambrose have started another school year, and their mothers are busy creating their schoolyard cliques and dramas to rival those of their children. Top mum Beatrice rules her minions with daily text invites for her famous workouts, which take place after the school drop-off. Will you be invited to Bea’s group run, her Pilates session or maybe, just maybe, the elusive power walk?

Then actual catastrophe strikes at St. Ambrose. The headmaster informs the parents that they do not have funds to complete construction of the new library. Here, the plot gets a bit cliché: Moms mobilize with Bundt cakes, lunch ladders and other fundraising events, but are too preoccupied to be bothered with their children.

Still, Hornby, the sister of author Nick Hornby, is a perceptive writer, using her comedic talents to investigate the minds of these women even as she exploits their ridiculousness. The Hive does just that—with a healthy serving of British humor thrown in for our reading pleasure. This is a book that might make any mother of school-age children just a little bit nervous.

A GATEKEEPER'S STORY

Lacy Crawford’s Early Decision is the story of five Chicago high school seniors, their college essay-writing process and their well-paid essay consultant, Anne. What makes this novel so fascinating is that Crawford has dramatized her personal experience in the college admissions world. For 15 years, she helped teenagers perfect their essays, gaining access to a network of mega-rich parents who relied on her to help their children earn acceptance to some of the best schools in the country.

Crawford expertly fictionalizes some of the crazy and vicious behavior exhibited by parents who claim they only want what is best for their child. Readers will be rooting for all five young adults—four wealthy, one from a working-class background, all relatable—to find their own voices and their own paths.

This is a winner of a novel. Part comedy, part exposé, it can open the door to debate about the intensity of the college application process. Early Decision should be required reading for every parent of a child who is embarking on the college admissions journey.

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