A darkly funny and much gayer imagining of the classic prep school novel, IDLEWILD will appeal to readers of Curtis Sittenfeld’s Prep and Donna Tartt’s The Secret History.
by James Frankie Thomas
Overlook/Abrams, Fall 2023
(via Frances Goldin Literary)
Idlewild is a tiny, artsy Quaker high school in lower Manhattan. Students call their teachers by their first names, there are no grades or awards, and every day begins with 20 minutes of contemplative silence. It is during one of those moments of worship that two airplanes hit the World Trade Center.
For two Idlewild outcasts, 9/11 serves as the first day of an intense, 18-month friendship. Fay is a prickly, aloof rich kid who is obsessed with gay men; Nell is a shy, sensitive scholarship student who is obsessed with Fay. The two of them bond fiercely over being the only two openly queer kids at Idlewild. But, as they rehearse for the school’s production of Othello, they notice two sexually ambiguous boys, Theo and Christopher, who are potential candidates for their exclusive Invert Society (née Gay-Straight Alliance). The pairs become mirrors of one another’s desires, anxieties, and loneliness. Their devotion to one another becomes an obsession, driving them to do things that they’ll regret for the rest of their lives.
Looking back on these events as adults, Fay and Nell, who haven’t spoken to each other in fifteen years, are haunted by shame over their Idlewild days. From alternating perspectives, they wonder if they could have done anything to save their friendship, or if it was meant to remain an artifact that couldn’t have existed outside of Idlewild’s walls.
James Frankie Thomas holds an MFA in fiction from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. Their fiction has been published in the Paris Review online, Vol. 1 Brooklyn, and The Toast, among other publications. One of these essays is included in the anthology We Are the Baby-Sitters Club, and another was adapted into a PBS NewsHour segment.