In the midst of a heated public debate about whether girls do better in school without the distraction and competition of boys comes a perfectly timed book that offers a fascinating peek into the world of single-sex schools.

Author Karen Stabiner, a well-known journalist who has written for Vogue and The New Yorker, spent a year inside the minds of teenage girls at two very different single-sex schools. The uppercrust, private Marlborough prep school in Los Angeles draws girls with Harvard ambitions and the parental support (sometimes pressure) to make it happen. On the other hand, the girls at The Young Women's Leadership School of East Harlem (TYWLS) come from neighborhoods where they must navigate a minefield of pregnancy, drugs and gangs. College is a distant, some would even say laughable, goal for many of these girls, who face the educational triple whammy of being poor, minority and female.

Stabiner began researching All Girls as a means of deciding the best educational course for her own daughter, and it will serve as a helpful guide for parents. But this is not just another book about educational philosophy. It's a poignant, powerful investigation into the state of adolescent girls in America.

All Girls will invariably draw comparisons to that other book dissecting the pressure-filled lives of teenage girls, Mary Pipher's Reviving Ophelia, and rightfully so. The students at both Marlborough and TYWLS feel tremendous weight on their shoulders, because in addition to coping with the natural angst of adolescence, these girls are trailblazers in the battle for equal education. In both cases, they are expected to justify their schools' existence as all-girls institutions: at Marlborough by getting bids to the nation's best colleges, and at TYWLS by graduating and perhaps going on to a four-year school.

Stabiner illustrates this struggle by following several girls throughout the school year at TYWLS, the overachieving, almost robotically driven Maryam and naturally gifted but unmotivated Amy; and individualistic Katie and Harvard-obsessed Christina at Marlborough. Stabiner magnificently illuminates the fears, obstacles and triumphs facing these girls, making this book a highly satisfying read for anyone interested in the state of American education or simply a compelling tale of American girls. Amy Scribner writes from Washington, D.C.

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