‘The Finishing School’ by Joanna Goodman is a clever piece of fiction

finishing school

“The Finishing School” by Joanna Goodman takes readers from Toronto, Canada to Switzerland. Through the protagonist, Kersti Kuusk, readers will also get to vicariously experience life at a prestigious, ultra-wealthy boarding/finishing school called the Lycée.

Kersti never felt like she really fitted in at the private school for the extremely wealthy. The other students, including her best friend Cressida, all had parents who skied in Gstaad and Breckenridge, they vacationed in exotic locales and had multiple homes around the world.

Kersti’s parents were from Estonia, and although they had lived in Canada for decades, they still felt that their loyalties were to their “mother” country. When Kersti married Jay, who was Jewish, her parents were not happy.  Although her mother had attended the Lycee as teenager, when she married a working class guy, her parents disowned her. So the only way Kersti can attend the Lycée is on a scholarship. Her family doesn’t have the wealth or the opportunities that the other girls — and the boys who attend during the day — have.

Ironically, when Kersti meets with some of her friends from the school decades later, she finds that she is admired, somewhat, as a successful writer, while some of the others have not accomplished much.

As Kersti becomes motivated to solve the mystery of her best friend’s accident during their time at school, she is also struggling to get pregnant. Her fight for a baby may just mean the end of her marriage, but her husband has also given her an idea for a new book.

At the end of their senior year of school. Cressida, pampered, spoiled, and selfish, fell from a 4th floor balcony. It was claimed that she tried to kill herself. She ended up in practically a vegetative state. Her mother cared for her, but Cressida could not talk, walk, communicate, or move. Kersti doesn’t really believe that Cressida would try to kill herself, and so she decides to try to find out the truth.

There was also a mystery regarding the Helvetica Society, a group of the brightest girls, several of whom were expelled many years ago. After that, the society disappeared. Why? Kersti believes that it has something to do with what happened to Cressida.

The narrative alternates between past and present with the year of the narrative clearly shown at the start of each chapter. Goodman also writes the past narrative in past tense and the current narrative in present tense, so it’s easy to follow.

The story builds effectively to the ending, which, while exciting, is not a mystery because the reader knows from the start that no harm comes to Kersti. It’s a story that will interest those who enjoy reading about fabulous locales, wealthy lifestyles, relationships, and mysteries.

Please note: This review is based on the final paperback book provided by the publisher, Harper, for review purposes.