Book nook: “The Overachievers”

When I decided to read “The Overachievers,” a book that follows the stories of nine overachievers in order to investigate the realities of ambitious students, for what else but an extra credit assignment for my AP Language and Composition class, my friends who had already read it had varying opinions about the book; some liked it, some thought it was too much, and others thought it just made them hate “the system.” I thought it was a mixture of the three.

I enjoyed the book overall, mainly because it was so relatable. The main setting of the novel, Walt Whitman High School (Robbins’s alma matter), seemed like a microcosm of Central; it’s a highly rated school, in a fairly affluent area, with many insanely driven students. I also thought that the problems the characters face, including sleep deprivation, college competition, parental pressure, overloading on AP classes and over involvement in extracurricular activities, are pretty much universal in today’s society. Moreover, the way the novel is written, weaving the intriguing stories of the overachievers—which were filled with plot twists, intense emotions, and even a bit of romance—with more investigative writing, keeps the book from feeling too much like a nonfiction book.

The thing that turned me off, however, was overemphasis on emotion. Many of the stories that Robins tells are the extremes. For example, instead of talking about a student taking one too many AP courses, Robbins found AP Frank, who took 17 AP classes by skipping lunch. Though this drew me in at first, it lost its appeal after a while. Furthermore, I felt that the general theme of the novel wasn’t really anything new and exciting. However, that may just be because I’m a student or because the book was written six years ago.

What annoyed me more though, was the fact that these problems are a reality that is here to stay. Yes, Robbins gave some suggestions on how to combat these problems, but I didn’t really see how they’d be effective. As long as there is a competitive job market, there will be an overabundance of college applicants, and colleges have the option of being super picky. Consequently, students will have to do more and more in order to even be accepted. The overachiever has become the new achiever. Therefore, as I began reading the book, I constantly felt like an underachiever. Here are these students on multiple varsity sports, with numerous extracurricular and leadership titles, taking insane course loads and acing them as well. Yet, even they weren’t guaranteed admission into a good college. How could I even compete? My opinion changed a bit as I read more, because I realized the horrible side effects of being an overachiever. I didn’t want to be like that. Also, it was kind of comforting when Robbins quoted numerous college admissions officers talking about how “the idea that applicants have to do unusual things to distinguish themselves is a ‘misconception.’” Yet, in the back of my mind, I still have a hard time reminding myself of that, and that made the book kind of irksome.

Overall, I thought that “The Overachievers” was an interesting and thoughtful read but that certain aspects were a bit annoying. Still, I would definitely suggest it to those concerned with the competitive nature of our educational system.