Genre: Adult Women's Fiction
Word Count: 96,000
Is Your Antagonist Hot or Cold:
Hot or cold? Look, Liston Heights is an elite community. Want your kid in the Cirrus gifted program? Get a math tutor in Pre-K. A lead role in a high school theater production? It’s years of private dance and voice lessons. You don’t just waltz in; you have to earn it. I charted the course and paid the dues, and no one – certainly not a frumpy English teacher who doesn’t even live in Liston Heights – can ruin this one, critical year. If that makes me cold, then I’m cold.
Isobel Johnson can’t stand helicopter parents like Elizabeth Abbott, a stage mom whose world revolves around yoga, Starbucks, and interfering in her children’s lives. Elizabeth resents teachers like Isobel, who effortlessly bond with students, including Elizabeth’s own teenagers, who’ve been pulling away from her more each year.
Isobel has spent her career in Liston Heights side-stepping the community’s high-powered families. When she receives a threatening voicemail accusing her of Anti-Americanism and a “blatant liberal agenda,” she realizes she’s squarely in the fray. Rather than cowering, Isobel doubles down on her social-justice ideals, teaching queer theory in AP American Lit. Meanwhile, Elizabeth, obsessed with the casting of the winter musical, inadvertently elbows the female lead in the gut while celebrating her son’s mid-size speaking role. She’s the instant star of a damning viral video and stripped of her position on the Theater Booster Board. While they share zero values, the women’s simultaneous meltdowns force them together in a battle against the school principal and a pack of rabid parents in a suburb where appearance is everything.
Humiliated, Elizabeth drifts for the first time since her kids were born. At the same time, the principal suspends Isobel amid pressure from an angry Republican Senator. Each woman seeks redemption, and when they both show up at a school-sponsored 5k, they’re determined to fight for it. Not only do they battle to the finish line, they must also tackle the social media fiasco that led to Isobel’s downfall, lest she lose her job and Elizabeth’s reputation remain permanently flatlined.
Told in the style of BIG LITTLE LIES, alternating between two protagonists and supporting players, DETENTION will appeal to book-clubbers who’ve enjoyed Elisabeth Egan’s A WINDOW OPENS and Amy Poeppel’s SMALL ADMISSIONS.
First 250 words:
Isobel Johnson spent most of each class period obsessing over the voicemail. She studied the faces of her students, searching for the downcast eye or snide smile that might signal guilt. But despite her vigilance, she’d arrived at last-period without any suspects, and now the kids in her AP American Literature class just looked tired. Some rested their chins in their palms. Some gazed toward the bank of frost-laced windows overlooking the snow-covered Liston Heights High School track. While definitely drowsy, no one seemed even a little bit sheepish, not even the ones she knew for sure hadn’t done a single page of their assigned reading.
"Okay," Isobel said with a sigh. She set her well-worn copy of The Great Gatsby on the corner of her metal desk and glanced at the standard-issue clock on the back wall. The red secondhand passed twelve, and it was now 3:24. "That's it for today," Isobel smiled in spite of her anxiety.
The juniors moved at once, rustling their notebooks and dropping their cellphones into their backpacks. A few donned baseball caps, which they'd stored beneath their seats during class. "Oh, hang on," Isobel interrupted. "I forgot about homework." She winced, bracing against their instantaneous groans. “It's not a big deal," she said, her palms toward them in defense. "I just wanted to say," she paused, making eye contact with a select few, wondering again about their complicity, "catch up on your reading! Tonight!" She pointed at the class with a faux-stern index finger.