Hacking Harvard

Wasserman, Robin. (2007). New York: Simon Pulse. ISBN-10: 1416936335/ ISBN-13: 978-1416936336

Three brilliant friends: Schwarz, Playboy-obsessed boy math genius already in Harvard at age 16, Eric Roth, tech genius and voice of morality, and Max Kim, Korean get-rich-quick schemer from a family of obsessed Harvard grads, take a challenge on for a 25 thousand dollar bet. They will hack, which is here used in the old MIT sense, as ‘trick through brilliant ingenuity’, their way into Harvard admissions to earn an acceptance for the biggest loser they can find at their school. This happens to be Clay Porter, the bullying terror of Eric’s childhood, an uneducated, uncultured, trailer-park teen. On the other side of the bet are The Bums, two very unpleasant geniuses from Boston Latin who made their money in day trading, and Alexandra Talese, Miss Perfect, would be valedictorian, and Harvard hopeful. To get Clay into Harvard they have to alter his transcripts, help him cheat on the SAT’s; coach and prompt him through his interview, and turn him into an apparent artist and intellectual. The outcome is always in doubt; an afterword gives some satisfying ‘where are they now’ details.

Reader’s Annotation
Don’t search here for the thrills of outsmarting the power structure through brainpower and technological skill—this book uses hacking in its older sense—a clever trick. A group of Cambridge high school brains accepts a bet that they can get an unlikely candidate into Harvard; many interesting observations of the nature of the college process ensue.

There was a recent article on “App Lit”—the genre based on the anxiety and exhaustion involved in the modern college application process. This book belongs in that genre, and reading about how a group of socially inept but, of course, brilliant teens use trickery and ingenuity to hack the admissions process of the most prestigious institution in the land should prove a comforting diversion for many teens. The social commentary is superficial, the characters blend together, and the plot doesn’t really make sense, but Robin Wasserman’s knowledge of geek life adds Star Trek/Star Wars type fun to the proceedings, the dialogue among the friends has the right smart-ass tone, and the Cambridge hometown setting is unusual and fun

About the author
Having written a book with this title, only a Harvard graduate would be so coy about where she went to college as Wasserman is in her college-focused back-of the book bio. She is also the author of the popular ‘Seven Deadly Sins’ series.

YA (Amazon)

Curriculum Ties

Booktalking Ideas
Think of some better methods for hacking the college admissions process.
How can the admissions process be improved?
Were the boys right to make the decision they did about Clay’s admission?

Reading Level/Interest Age
Grades 8-11 (Booklist)

Challenge Issues
Mild swearing, smoking, drinking, marijuana, questionable morals

Be knowledgeable about the book and prepared to discuss it calmly. Provide complaint form per board policy; gather student reactions; list Booklist and other reviews available at Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/product-description/1416936335/ref=dp_proddesc_0?ie=UTF8&n=283155&

Why Included?
Used for Little Brother bibliography—I was looking for technological and clever plot, but the story was pretty low-tech.

Selection Tools
Favorable mention YALSA blog

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