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The Chandler Legacies by Abdi Nazemian
Every year, the elite residents of Chandler Boarding School compete to become members of the Circle. A prestigious writing group taught by a reclusive professor, the Circle offers an opportunity to learn and create in relative freedom, as well as the status that comes along with acceptance. When five strangers are selected, they are forced to confront the truths of themselves and the institution that surrounds them, from toxic relationships to suppressed trauma to hidden abuses. The strength and comradery they find are tested again and again, and as the stakes at Chandler rise, the Circle might just cave in.
"Nonfiction is about telling the truth. Fiction is about telling your truth. Fiction is a mystery that only the author can solve. You.”
The Chandler Legacies by Abdi Nazemian is what the Breakfast Club could have been. It takes high school stereotypes and gives them flesh, blood, and character. It is raw and real, and so very painful to read. It is, essentially, the story that should be told to every high schooler because, in many ways, it is the story of every high schooler. While every experience is different, and thankfully, not everyone endures what happens to these characters, every person can find themselves reflected in at least one perspective. And is that not the point of literature? To see ourselves reflected back at us, and to step into the experiences of others?
"There is no right or wrong way to be creative. Creativity is the only true purpose we have. It's our power, and we have a duty to use that power responsibly."
Told through five different perspectives, The Chandler Legacies follows members of a prestigious high school writing group as they confront the horrors of wealthy academia and the centuries of trauma that hide behind ivy-covered walls. With an autobiographical element, each perspective was handled with care, even as the individuality of every character was established. The writing was wonderful, and the dialogue flowed naturally and realistically. It read like walking around a high school campus and listening to the conversations taking place.
Now for the characters of the book:
"My legacy isn't about living up to my past by trying to be perfect. It's about the future I'll help create by being myself. We make our own legacy."
Spence is the princess. Rich, pretty, talented, and popular, she is the girl who would be easy to despise. And yet she is trapped by the perfection everyone places on her, isolated by the very pedestal people envy her for. She is talented, but she is also complicated, and will not stand by when her friends are hurting for the sake of her future. I loved her development as she opened her eyes to the world around her, and was so very glad that she wasn't villainized for being feminine. Hers especially is a story of women supporting women, which was so comforting to see.
"Think of all those young girls who dream of coming to this school. We can stop them from going through what you went through."
Brunson is the caregiver. Having raised her little sister because of her mom's chronic illness, Brunson packs her days so full of activities that she doesn't have time to think. At the start of the story, her identity is defined only by what she gives to others. Writing and being part of a group that doesn't expect her to save them allows her the resources to value herself. As the story progresses, darker truths come to light. Yet even in the face of trauma, Brunson is always more than a victim. She is a person first, and what has been done to her never defines her. Such a narrative is essential, especially in a world that loves to make women victims and nothing more. Brunson writes the narrative with the help of her friends, and her story was brighter than a single moment of darkness.
"Are you two different people?"
"I was for a long time. But not anymore. Now I'm just Beth Kramer, of the Connecticut Kramers."
Beth is the invisible girl. Dealing with chronic social anxiety and compulsive habits, she is used to fading into the background. But the Circle challenges her to be more and watching her accept her potential was awe-inspiring. When Beth explores her sexuality and opens up, her world expands. She becomes a rallying point for all those who are left in the background, but who have the strength to stand in the spotlight (Spence would approve of my analogy).
"You know, the hardest part of pole vaulting isn't physical, it is mental. It's learning how to forget about pressure and fear and be in the moment."
"And how do you do that?" she asks.
"You meet people who make you feel good about yourself."
Freddy is the varsity athlete. Measured only by his physical ability, joining the Circle gives him a place to be more than a medal. He confronts feelings of inferiority and the constant pressure to succeed, while also exploring a new side of himself that allows vulnerability. He doesn't excuse bad behavior from other athletes and never turns a blind eye, even when it would be easier for him.
"Anything we write is a reflection of who we are."
Ramin is the outcast. Perhaps the most complicated character in the novel, he flees his home country for the New England boarding school, only to find that the danger followed him. Dealing with intense hazing and homophobia, Ramin's chapters were heart-wrenching.
"She's filled with love for this place. That's why she wants to change it. Because she loves it."
Again, The Chandler Legacies needs to be in every high school library, and on every teacher's bookshelf. It is a love letter to fiction and the power of creativity, as well as the family that can be found in the most unexpected places. I will not lie and say it is easy to read: it’s not. Some passages will rip out your heart, even as others will remind you that every person has the power to change things. For people who read and write and consume fictional worlds as they need them to survive, it is a reflection of all that love.