The Overachievers: The Secret Lives of Driven Kids takes us deep within the lives of teenagers at a top school, revealing the increasingly stressful and overscheduled days of what many would consider star students. In the craze to get into the "right" college, they lose sight of the big picture in the pursuit of higher SAT scores, more AP classes, and more bullet points on their resume. Where is the love of learning or the joy of participating in an extracurricular activity because you're truly interested in the club? And what if all the effort isn't enough when every other student applying to Duke or Harvard is just as overachieving?
Alexandra Robbins chooses a cross-section of students to present her case. There are academics and sports stars, popular kids and nerds, juniors just beginning to feel the pressure and a college freshman looking back on his high school career. The book switches focus between students as they make their ways through a single school year.
For the most part, the author lets the students speak for themselves, recounting conversations, sharing IM sessions, and describing their actions with little intrusion. Robbins primarily makes herself known in moments when she explain her methods, or when relating a piece of information she is only privy to in her role as investigative reporter, like a college counselor's perceptions of one of the featured students.
The Overachievers is a fascinating book, part exposť and part human-interest story. Robbins never judges the students, just the overachieving impulse that drives them and the overall culture that helped create the impulse. The divergent storylines are expertly combined to create a compelling tale of the high school years. If they can make time in their overscheduled lives, students currently caught up in the overachievement rat race would do well to read this book to get a new perspective on their lives.