"The League of Unexceptional Children" by Gitty Daneshvari

New York Times Book Review, November 2015

The cloak of American exceptionalism wears some permanent stains down its front — like slavery and the denial of civil rights. And fresh stains, too, like exaggerated income inequality. Likewise, the reality of the elite, exceptional American child is hardly as pristine as many parents imagine. Our “gifted and talented” Mandarin-speaking, travel-team-­captaining, polished-in-selfies youth are often characterized by narcissism, the pursuit of achievement at any cost, toxic stress and greed: grade greed, accomplishment greed, résumé greed. Precocious superstardom is not always happy. And regular, average childhood is not necessarily a problem that needs fixing.

The arrival of “The League of Unexceptional Children,” by Gitty Daneshvari, the author of the School of Fear series, suggests that it could be time for the imperfect child to share a sliver of spotlight. I don’t mean the uncaring or incurious child, but the child looking outward rather than in — or rather than up, as tends to be the only direction for Type A’s and their offspring. At a moment when we expect more achievement and intellectual sophistication from our teenagers than from some presidential candidates, this book, the first in a planned series, proposes alternatives.