I recently received an advance copy of Bronwen Hruska’s forthcoming book Accelerated. One rainy afternoon a couple of weeks ago I settled into my favorite chair to begin sifting through the pages. Three-hundred and twenty-eight pages later that evening, I laid the book on my coffee table with a heavy heart and longing for the sequel.
Hruska’s debut into the world of parental fiction brings to life the story of Sean, a single father in New York City who as the book opens has recently lost his wife to an emotional breakdown and subsequent exodus from the family and become the sole guardian of eight-year old Tobi, a little boy reminiscent of Tim Allen’s son in The Santa Clause. Tobi is a sensitive, innocent youngster and a student at The Bradley School, an über-prestigious Upper East Side academy where the exorbitant tuition is paid by his indulgent maternal grandparents.
Sean, a fledgling artist – immediately bringing to mind David Duchovny’s newest TV papa-persona Hank Moody – is ultimately confronted with the realities of The Bradley School: unrealistic academic demands placed on his son; and insurmountable pressure to medicate his child ‘for his own good.’
At the core, Accelerated is a daring, honest and brave study that throws the doors of the elite Manhattan school world wide-open, touching in particular on three taboos of modern parenting: the ever-increasing rate of ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) diagnoses; medicating children; and affirmative action policies at elite schools. The reader can well imagine Hruska pulling from her own experiences as a modern Manhattan parent to cultivate the characters of Sean, Tobi and his teacher Jess, the lady who eventually holds a certain fascination for newly separated Sean.
Opening with a steamy sex-scene in the bathroom of a parent association meeting, the one drawback from which the narrative suffers is the occasional smearing of the line between a wonderfully insightful and intelligent social satire and a Candice Bushnell-esque novel. We can almost hear the powers-that-be telling the author: “No one wants to read a serious book about the over-prescription of attention deficit meds in private schools. Put some sex in this thing so we can sell it!” So Hruska did. But the plunge was unnecessary.
As we read through the chapters, we are riding on Hruska’s ability to engage with her reader, to wrap us in an enthralling story of the love between father and son. She’s an impressive writer, an innate story-teller, and an astute social commentator. Her ability to reach into the depths of her soul and haul up a convincing male voice, completely in tune with the masculine psyche, is remarkable. Yet what’s even more compelling is her ability to raise a red flag and strip off the decorative curtain hanging over one of the most crucial issues concerning today’s parents.
Hruska’s Accelerated is a must read for all modern mothers and fathers, grandmas and grandpas, aunts and uncles.
ADHD diagnoses and the Ritalin phenomenon are a largely North American, if not American, issue. Europe has yet to jump on that particular bandwagon. But that doesn’t mean it’s not clawing its nails into the social fabric of the Old Countries. With much less control over advertising and increased legislative constraint, pharmaceutical companies do not have the reach in, say, France that they are able to obtain in the United States. At least, not yet. And thank goodness for that.
The numbers are terrifying. Even worse is the side effect of creating an entire generation of medicated students. After reading Accelerated, I did a little research of my own. I stumbled upon several recent articles in the New York Times highlighting the staggering number of high school and college students abusing attention enhancement drugs, students who haven’t been diagnosed with a disorder. An entire black market has developed around these drugs. Other studies speak to the significantly increased percentage of young children diagnosed with such disorders over the last couple of decades. According to a national study, the percentage of children from ages 4 (yes, 4!) to 17 on prescription drugs to combat Attention Deficit Disorder rose 66% in the last ten years.
As an adult who grew up with a reading disorder, I am sympathetic to parents who want to give their children every advantage and who worry about hindering their child if they refuse to provide aids that could make a real difference to the child’s ability to learn. But a drug? What are we teaching our children by having them pop one pill for this and another for that? We’re an easy fix society – we know that. But now we’re drugging our children. Pay attention parents.
That’s Hruska’s main thesis. And it’s a poignant one.
Accelerated is scheduled for release in October 2012 by Pegasus Books.