Not-so-subtle gloating about acceptances to top-tier universities — while relegating others to “party school” status — has a name, according to Jon Hart: “school shaming.”
“There’s all kinds of shaming out there,” he said. “And then there’s school shaming, which is feeling superior to someone else because of the school they went to. And it’s pretty prevalent.”
Hart, a self-proclaimed “die-hard Upper West Sider,” took up the topic in “Party School,” his debut novel, published by The Sager Group in May. The book centers Dylan Mills, a “likable underachiever,” as he leaves home for a less-than-prestigious college — while his high school girlfriend, Rosemary Silversmith, heads off to her own “it school.”
At the outset of chapters that follow the succession of months between the end of summer and winter break, all of the familiar artifacts of a cut-throat college application process come into focus: waitlist rejections, perfectly dramatic personal essays and calculated conversations with classmates and parents.
But at the book’s core, there’s humor. “I wanted the pages to keep turning, maybe there’s a lesson there for someone,” Hart said. “I wanted to tell a story, tell a compelling story.”
From “Safety School” to “Party School”
In his first non-fiction book, “Man Versus Ball: One Ordinary Guy And His Extraordinary Sports Adventures,” Hart recounts his own deep dive into athletics, from learning to be a mascot to working as a “ball boy” at the U.S. Open tennis tournament. He has a background in journalism, writing for The New York Times and, in the 1990s, for The West Side Spirit and Our Town.
But some five or six years ago, the idea for a work of fiction — what would eventually become “Party School” — was born. The children of Hart’s friends were applying for college at the time, “and they were very competitive about it,” he said. He started writing under the title “Safety School,” a phrase that first came to mind as a slogan that could be plastered on a T-shirt, when he was brainstorming design ideas for a friend’s business. “I switched to ‘Party School,’” Hart explained, “because I figured that might attract more people.”
“People are still obsessed,” he said about university prestige, “you know, even alums and so forth are very competitive about it.”
What became widely known in 2019 as the college admissions scandal, involving cheating and bribery to send students to elite colleges, “threw something else into the story,” Hart said. “I’m not trying to impart morals, but [readers] might walk away with — I hope perhaps they’ll come away being somewhat of a better person,” he explained, with a caveat: “I’m not preaching to anyone.”
“Party School” is available for purchase via online booksellers including the Strand.
“I wanted the pages to keep turning, maybe there’s a lesson there for someone.” Jon Hart