Author, speaker, expert college admissions coach.


The kids in this book are real, and chances are you know someone like at Mary Alice, Bianca, D.J., or the others.

To make it easier for book groups and all readers, I put together a list of the characters and their issues.

Main Characters

Academy at Swift River, Group 23 / Admissions Summary

biancaBianca Suarez Bittman
Hometown: West Palm Beach, Florida
Presenting problems: Lying, sneaking out with boyfriend, cutting classes, disrespect to father
Mother: Teresa, nurse (deceased)
Father: Alan, network administrator at a college
Remarks: Bianca hasn’t dealt with mother’s death from cancer
Siblings: Twin brother and older sister; both are doing well

maryMary Alice Chambliss
Hometown: Dallas, Texas
Presenting problems: Eating disorder, drug use, smoking, promiscuity, refuses to be with family
Mother: Lillian, dermatologist, on leave from her practice (currently full-time mother)
Father: Burns, business executive
Remarks: Mary Alice is a “mystery kid”; no obvious cause of problems; family appears to have it all
Siblings: Three younger siblings

tyroneTyrone Harriston
Hometown: Queens, New York
Presenting problems: Refuses to attend school, plays video games till 3 a.m., suicidal thoughts
Mother: Natalie, phone company technician
Father: Lerone, various jobs
Remarks: Bitter divorce, dad forced to leave house
Siblings: Older sister (unmarried, with toddler)

djD.J. Pandowski
Hometown: Suburban New Jersey
Presenting problems: Plays with fire, ran away, impulsive, poor grades
Mother: Janice, teacher
Father: Teodor, teacher
Remarks: D.J. is adopted, has attention deficit hyperactivity disorder
Siblings: None

Notes on Some Other Members of Group 23:

mortar-board-icon-small-v2Andy: Drinks and drives, defiant with parents

mortar-board-icon-small-v2Ashley: From Manhattan’s most exclusive neighborhood, has problems with boys, possible drug use, upset about adoption

mortar-board-icon-small-v2Trevor: Used Ecstasy, cocaine, and other drugs with his friends at home, almost died from drug use

mortar-board-icon-small-v2Phil “the Philosopher”: Lived around the world, used heroin at age fifteen, expelled from four schools

mortar-board-icon-small-v2Tanner (“Teddy Bear”): Drinking, hanging out with a gang, bought a gun

mortar-board-icon-small-v2Eva “the everything kid”: Anorexia, bulimia, rape, alcohol, suicide attempt

mortar-board-icon-small-v2Willow: Cocaine, heroin, abusive boyfriend; a friend died from overdose

mortar-board-icon-small-v2Counselor: Tanya Beecher, earned master’s in social work from Smith College

mortar-board-icon-small-v2Teacher liaison: Gennarose Pope, studied English literature at Columbia University

Note: These summaries are based on information provided to the admissions office when the families applied. The names of students and their families have been changed, as has one hometown.

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