Beth Kramer is a “townie” who returns to her sophomore year after having endured a year of judgment from her roommate, Sarah.
But Sarah Brunson knows there’s more to that story.
Amanda Priya “Spence” Spencer is the privileged daughter of NYC elites, who is reeling from the realization that her family name shielded her from the same fate as Sarah.
Ramin Golafshar arrives at Chandler as a transfer student to escape the dangers of being gay in Iran, only to suffer brutal hazing under the guise of tradition in the boys’ dorms.
And Freddy Bello is the senior who’s no longer sure of his future but has fallen hard for Spence and knows he has to stand up to his friends after what happened to Ramin.
At Chandler, the elite boarding school, these five teens are brought together in the Circle, a coveted writing group where life-changing friendships are born—and secrets are revealed. Their professor tells them to write their truths. But is the truth enough to change the long-standing culture of abuse at Chandler? And can their friendship survive the fallout?
I received a digital advanced readers copy from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.
The Chandler Legacies takes place in elite boarding school, Chandler Academy. In 1999, five teenagers and students of Chandler are selected to be part of The Circle, a highly coveted writing workshop led by enigmatic English teacher, Douglas. Brought together to hone their craft, the five teens navigate their own struggles as, through writing, dig within themselves, revealing a legacy of secrets, silence, and abuse within Chandler.
The character-driven storytelling in The Chandler Legacies is immediately engaging. Though very different from one another, the five protagonists have their own unique and intriguing personal stories: biracial Indian-White American Spence, a passionate actor who burdened by perfection; bisexual Cuban-Brazillian athlete Freddy who is unsure of his future in sports despite his parents’ sacrifices; gay Iranian Ramin, who left Iran after he and his boyfriend were outed; queer Sarah “Brunson” who fills her life with extra-curriculars to bury the trauma of her mother’s cancer; and queer Beth who has trichotillamania and grapples with her tumultuous first year of Chandler. At least one of these characters will resonate with readers.
All five are fully developed, each with their own internal world and struggles. Readers who enjoy the found family trope will enjoy how the characters find belonging and acceptance with one another, each other a safe space to share their truths about themselves. It is through their writing that the characters come together, where they unpack their traumas and insecurities, and how writing can reveal the truth about ourselves and others. The Chandler Legacies asks the question: do we find freedom in the truth and sharing the truth?
Nazemian portrays the complexities of boarding school dynamics and institutional power with razor sharp insight. The story explores and depicts how traditions of violence are perpetuated because “that’s how it has always been” – from racism to anti-gay sentiments to bullying to violent hazings. There is also an unexpected layer that delves how privilege can also shield people from harm. Through these questions, The Chandler Legacies reflects on the intersections of privilege and abuse, exploring who gets hurt and who doesn’t get hurt in the cycle of violence.
At its heart, The Chandler Legacies is about, as the name suggests, legacy; legacy students and their privileges, the legacy of our actions and mistakes, and how legacy can define and shape an institution and who we are. The story offers a hopeful ending, highlighting that legacy is not destiny, and new legacies – one where truth is told and abuse is stopped – can be created in their place.
Searing and ultimately hopeful, The Chandler Legacies is a complex portrait of boarding school life that lays bare the toxic cultures pervasive in such institutions, but does so moments of levity and the joys of friendship and connection balanced with the deliberate solemnity when exploring its darker subject matter.
MY CONCLUSION: RECOMMENDED
Is this book for you?
Premise in a sentence: Five teens bond through a writing workshop and discover a legacy of secrets and violence within their own boarding school.
Perfect for: Readers who enjoy the boarding school setting; readers who love stories that center on friendships; readers looking for a cathartic yet hopeful read that also explores heavier topics
Think twice if: You aren’t looking for a heavier read with heavy subject matter.
Genre: young adult historical fiction
Trigger/content warning: explicit account of hazing (of a sexual nature), bullying, racism, sexism, casual misogyny, recount of sexual assault