The Headmaster's List
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A Lot or a Little?
The parents' guide to what's in this book.
What Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that Melissa de la Cruz's The Headmaster's List begins after a fatal car crash in Beverly Hills. The accident, involving students from the elite Armstrong Prep, has left one boy dead, a girl severely injured, and a star athlete charged with aggravated reckless driving and child endangerment. Spencer Sandoval, the injured girl, has only flashes of memory from that night, but she soon becomes convinced the crash was not an accident. When she starts to investigate, she uncovers a tangled web of betrayal, jealousy, and drug dealing. Armstrong students drink and get drunk at parties, a student sells prescriptions for prescription drugs, a girl's drink is spiked with a "roofie" (a so-called date-rape drug) and Spencer is prescribed Vicodin for her injuries. A teen is abducted and threatened with a gun, there's some profanity ("s--t," "pissed," and "f--k"), and a girl discovers her boyfriend is having sex with another girl. Characters are White, Latina, Chinese American, and nonbinary. Perseverance is a strong theme that runs throughout the story, as Spencer never gives up trying to find the cause of the crash, even as she's struggling to recover physically and emotionally from the accident.
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What's the Story?
Being on THE HEADMASTER'S LIST at Armstrong Prep is a surefire way to get into the very best colleges, and 18-year-old scholarship student Spencer Sandoval is counting on the list to help her be accepted at Cal Tech. But those dreams are on hold after a night at a party ends with her boyfriend Ethan Amoroso's Porsche crashing into a palm tree at 120 miles per hour, injuring Spencer and school loner Tabby Hill, and killing popular sophomore Christopher Moore. Spencer remembers almost nothing of the crash and has no idea why she and Ethan were in the car with two students they barely knew. What Spencer does remember is how angry she was with Ethan when she caught him kissing another girl at the party. Ethan has a history of reckless driving, speeding into the triple digits, and drag racing, but his family's wealth has always kept him from being held accountable. Until now. Spencer's injuries, both physical and emotional, are serious enough that her family gets her a service dog named Riley and the school assigns Ethan's best friend, Jackson Chen, to help her with taking notes in class. When Spencer shares with Jackson her doubts that the crash had been an accident, he agrees to help her look for the truth. As Spencer and Jackson try to put together what happened that night, Spencer is certain she's being watched and finds a threatening note in her school locker. When Spencer does find the truth about the crash, it's one she never expected.
Is It Any Good?
This first thriller from Melissa de la Cruz (Gotham High) has a plot full of twists and turns, a relatable and vulnerable heroine, and a strong message about never giving up. While The Headmaster's List checks all this required boxes for a good prep school whodunnit (a mix of BMW driving kids and scholarship students, unchaperoned parties at mansions, lots of secrets, and a troubled teen romance), it also tackles serious issues around PTSD and the challenges of properly using prescription painkillers after an injury.
Talk to Your Kids About ...
Families can talk about the perseverance Spencer shows in The Headmaster's List. What qualities does Spencer have that helped her to keep going even when things got tough?
Students at Armstrong Prep talk a lot about privileges. The privileges that comes from working hard as a student or athlete and the privileges that some students have simply because they come from higher income families. Do you think your school treats everyone equally when it comes awarding honors and privileges?
Do you think someone can be a good person and still do bad things?
- Author: Melissa de la Cruz
- Genre: Mystery
- Topics: Friendship, Great Girl Role Models, High School
- Character Strengths: Perseverance
- Book type: Fiction
- Publisher: Roaring Brook Press
- Publication date: February 23, 2023
- Publisher's recommended age(s): 14 - 18
- Number of pages: 392
- Available on: Audiobook (abridged), Hardback, iBooks, Kindle
- Last updated: February 27, 2023
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