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Book Talk: Jessica Goodman, ‘The Legacies’

Not since Nelson DeMille’s “The Gold Coast” (1990) have I read a recent author of fiction who truly understands the difference between the old upper-upper class and the rest of us. Jessica Goodman’s first YA mystery, “They Wish They Were Us” (reviewed August 18, 2022), revealed this cloistered and minute social class through her despicable young characters. Although “The Legacies” (2023, 323 pages) is not a sequel, Ms. Goodman again chooses the YA genre.

Because Americans equate “social class” with degree of or lack of wealth, understanding the importance of lineage among those in the top tier of society is nearly impossible. If I were still teaching sociology and told my class that Elon Musk, Bill Gates, and Mark Zuckerberg are not members of the upper-upper class, my students would write me off as a prankster (or worse). But Goodman does the job as an author of fiction that I probably failed at as a professor of sociology. Her young characters never think about their wealth or their privileged positions in society because their way of life seems “natural,” and they are essentially isolated from the rest of America.

The novel opens with the author telling us that, “The Legacy Ball had never ended with a murder — obviously.” The rest of the book is a review of the week of activities leading up to the event. Chapters are from the POV of three young women (Bernie, Isobel, and Tori) who are about to graduate from Excelsior Prep, one of the schools that comprise the Intercollegiate League of exclusive schools that are preparatory to matriculation at Ivy League or other A-List colleges and universities.


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