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Trust Exercise

A Novel
Written by: Susan Choi
Length: 9 hrs and 57 mins
3.5 out of 5 stars (9 ratings)

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Publisher's Summary

Winner of the 2019 National Book Award for Fiction

"Electrifying" (People) • "Masterly" (The Guardian) • "Dramatic and memorable" (The New Yorker) • "Magic" (Time) • "Ingenious" (The Financial Times) • "A gonzo literary performance" (Entertainment Weekly) • "Rare and splendid" (The Boston Globe) • "Remarkable" (USA Today) • "Delicious" (The New York Times) • "Book groups, meet your next selection" (NPR)

In an American suburb in the early 1980s, students at a highly competitive performing-arts high school struggle and thrive in a rarefied bubble, ambitiously pursuing music, movement, Shakespeare, and particularly, their acting classes. When within this striving "Brotherhood of the Arts", two freshmen, David and Sarah, fall headlong into love, their passion does not go unnoticed - or untoyed with - by anyone, especially not by their charismatic acting teacher, Mr. Kingsley.  

The outside world of family life and economic status, of academic pressure and of their future adult lives, fails to penetrate this school’s walls - until it does, in a shocking spiral of events that catapults the action forward in time and flips the premise upside-down. What the listener believes to have happened to David and Sarah and their friends is not entirely true - though it’s not false, either. It takes until the audiobook’s stunning coda for the final piece of the puzzle to fall into place - revealing truths that will resonate long after the final sentence.  

As captivating and tender as it is surprising, Trust Exercise will incite heated conversations about fiction and truth, and about friendships and loyalties, and will leave listeners with wiser understandings of the true capacities of adolescents and of the powers and responsibilities of adults. 

©2019 Susan Choi (P)2019 Macmillan Audio

What the critics say

2019 National Book Awards - Winner
2019
New Yorker Best Books of the Year
2019
New York Magazine Best Books of the Year
2019 NPR Best Book of the Year
2019
Slate Book Review Best Books of the Year
2019
Kirkus Reviews Best Books of the Year
2019 Shelf Awareness Best Books of the Year
2019
Time Magazine Top 10 Books of the Year
2019 Hudson Booksellers Best of the Year
2019
New York Times Book Review Notable Books of the Year
2019
Publishers Weekly Best Books of the Year
2019 NYPL Book for Reading and Sharing

What members say

Average Customer Ratings

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  • Overall
    2 out of 5 stars
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    2 out of 5 stars

Very disappointing

The story starts well and then falls apart in the second half. There names are changed, or maybe not, there are several time jumps, and many questions left not quite resolved. The review in The New York Times is quite harsh (which is unusual - they tend to not review books they don't feel somewhat positive about). Here is the final summary paragraph from that review: "In the end, the experience of reading “Trust Exercise” is reminiscent of the most famous trust exercise of all: the one where you fall backward into your partner’s outstretched arms. You believe your partner will catch you. In this case, she doesn’t."

2 people found this helpful

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  • working mom
  • 2019-05-22

fabulous performance, incisive writing

This book gave me a good deal of insight into my own high school experience, as well as the experience of my family members
The author is very talented with her phrasing and metaphors.She also discussed the etymology and usage of certain words, which I found quite eye-opening!
I highly recommend the audio version of this book, as the "exercises" contain repetitive phrases that are fleshed out in the performance, but would remain undifferentiated as words on the page
Don't miss this! Very enjoyable

15 people found this helpful

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  • Blondie
  • 2019-05-04

Terrific!

So much to think about in this novel! How do we recall the past? What is truth? What is fiction? How does one person’s truth contradict someone else’s? I found this to be a thought provoking page turner that makes me want to read everything else Susan Choi has written!

8 people found this helpful

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  • Judy A. Masters
  • 2019-11-27

not a YA novel

When Trust Exercise begins I thought, oh another YA novel. Luckily, the novel was so much more. The writing is superb. The character development was unique and believable. Setting most of the book in the 80's was excellent because it was a pre cell phone era. The teen years are difficult and no matter the time frame it doesn't get easier.

4 people found this helpful

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  • Kindle Customer
  • 2019-10-13

Not for the linear thinker

This was awonderful book that kept me off kilter. After an interesting and well written (but pretty standard) beginning, I was thrown a curve and loved it! The "Karen" section is hysterical and heartbreaking and if you like a neat, tidy ending (I don't) you may be disappointed. fantastic narration that really showcased the different characters.

7 people found this helpful

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  • Erin M McNellis
  • 2019-07-25

Gets much more interesting at the halfway point

Some reviewers are saying that they gave up on this after a few hours, and I agree that I spent a lot of time waiting for it to be more than just a teen drama.... but then about halfway through, it started to deliver. The first half turns out to be a novel written by the main character, and the second half is narrated by one of the minor characters who resents the distortions that the author made to their real-life high school story. This isn't so much a spoiler as literally the reason to read the book - it's an interesting meditation on fiction and memory, where you're forced to question every narrator's version of events.

11 people found this helpful

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  • H. G.
  • 2019-12-18

What was this book all about?!?

I don't write many reviews - but I promised myself I would with this book...because I suffered through it until the end. I kept waiting for it to get better - it did not get better for me! The only reason I purchased it was because it received the Fiction of the year award or something like that. Truthfully, I'm not sure why. I just never clicked with this book and the way it was written - sometimes I felt the author wanted to give the reader vocabulary lessons or something. It was hard to follow and when it ended - I thought "You've got to be kidding - THAT was the end?!" I don't think I've ever thought after reading/listening to a book - What was THAT all about...really?!! What really was interesting for me is I became more and more frustrated the more I got into it, I kept believing it would get better, there would be a point to all this. For me - it never got better and for the life of me I can't imagine what the point of the story was. This of course is just my opinion - but I would suggest if you are purchasing a book to be entertained, involved in or even educated about something - THIS IS NOT THE BOOK TO GET.

7 people found this helpful

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  • David
  • 2020-01-10

Lost My Trust

“Trust Exercise” begins with promise, focusing on the emotional confusion and excesses of teenage actors in a school for the performing arts. The first half seemed like a standard, enjoyable tale of misguided affection and ambition. But I began to lose interest, as the characters became increasingly unpleasant and self-centered.

Then the book took a major narrative shift, which made it more of an academic exercise than a character study. A different narrator—perhaps unreliable—raised doubts about the “truth” of the story. Too late, because I had lost interest. There were some surprising scenes toward the end (Susan Choi writes very well), and the book raised important issues that weren’t expected based on the earlier sections. There was a lot to think about, and I wanted to like the book more. But I just didn’t.

The three readers were good. The first readers in particular had the right voices for what was in some ways a fancy exploration of teenage drama and manipulation.

1 person found this helpful

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  • Dr. Mom
  • 2019-12-13

Terrible book

Read for a book club. Wish I hadn’t read it. Ridiculous story. Can’t believe it won the NBA.

6 people found this helpful

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  • Jessica G
  • 2020-03-29

Confusing at best...

This book had moments of greatness but more often than not did not deliver. It was too confusing and often poorly written with a reader concept that was unachievable. The author clearly expected you to be in her head far more than is even plausible. The recording audio and characterizations were great. The books itself, not so much.

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  • Sebastian Romero
  • 2020-03-12

Keep at it!!

Spoilers ahead! But although I hate spoilers, I suggest getting this book spoiled a bit before reading it.
This book poses a serious marketing problem. I am extremely happy not to be the person in charge of marketing this book, it must’ve been tough (at least before the National Book Award win).
I had no idea who Choi was before I bought this book, so I didn’t know what kind of author she was. When I read the description, it gave off slightly Celeste Ng vibes, this borderland between great thought provoking fiction and something also plot heavy (in a good way... i LOVE Ng).
This was not said book.
I stopped this book at page 60 my first time around it. And I hated it. Did I really need to read about a whiney privileged girl at a rich prep school and her romantic affair with this other boy? I mean, they had cero chemistry, she was annoying as can be, the prose was kinda annoying and overdone....
DONE. I stopped there.
Then a friend told me to go with her to a Susan Choi event, and I thought why not? I love going to readings. This meant however that I would have to finish the book. So I started to see interviews of Choi about the book, spoiling the book for me but getting an idea of what Choi wanted to do... then i tried again and it was wonderful. Yes, the first part should’ve been shorter, Sarah could’ve been a tad more interesting, but still... the second part makes up for this weird first part. Karen is a complex, magnetic, utterly gray character whom i loooved. The structure of her story was so much sharper, her thoughts more interesting, her psychology so bizarre yet gorgeously drawn down.
I can’t give this book a 5 stars because 1, I think the ending is tough (tougher than it needs to be) and bc in good conscience I can’t give 5 stars to a book I wouldn’t have finished had it not been for a random event .
Also because I think the end is a bit abrupt, and Although this is of personal taste, I don’t like to feel like I didnt understand the story at the end. So many elements were left untethered, like Mr. Kingsley’s story which is so weird and unexplained, or Manuel’s sections... the first half of the novel is literally the half of a novel in the book so there are things Sarah writes on that Karen doesn’t pick up or ignores, but I would’ve liked to know how Sarah wouldve explained these things... I KNOW this unsatisfying ending/lack of answers is part of the book and that its intentional and bla bla bla but still its not a feeling i like.
This book could turn into a 5 stars in a re read and also I do think is one of the few things I’ve read in a while that I’m sure perfectly represents our time yet also has the aesthetic elements to back it up, so i wouldn’t be surprised if in 50 years this book is taught in universities... it has that timeless/academic feel to it