Layden’s incisive debut offers a composite portrait of an exclusive girls’ boarding school on the cusp of a long-overdue reckoning with a sexual abuser on the faculty. The novel opens as an incoming first-year student arrives at the Atwater School in fall 2015, and her parents are troubled upon observing a series of signs reading “A Rapist Works Here” posted along the route to the campus. Subsequent chapters are structured around the defining traditions of an Atwater year, from initiation and fall fest to prom and commencement, and each one introduces at least two or three different students. The identity of the teacher who preyed on a student nearly 20 years earlier, prompting the poster campaign and other acts of protest, is eventually revealed, along with the identity of the current student bent on unmasking him. While the short narratives don’t really give the reader sufficient time to get to know the characters, they coalesce into an overview of the school’s culture, as the students begin to question the official word on the allegations. Notably, the novel is set just before #MeToo, creating an astute snapshot of a venerable institution being pulled, however unwillingly, into its future. Layden succeeds at bringing the effects of an institutional cover-up into sharp relief. Agent: Lisa Grubka, Fletcher & Company (Feb.)
Praise for All Girls:
One of "The 28 Must-Read Books of Winter 2021"Town & Country
One of "The Most Anticipated Books of Winter 2021"Parade
One of the "Best Books to Read in 2021"Good Housekeeping
"The pages turn fast and the girls are complex, compelling and written with incredible tenderness. Layden excels at rendering the everyday details of boarding school life."
––New York Times
"An insightful prep school drama"
"If Gossip Girl meets Curtis Sittenfield sounds like your jam then All Girls is extremely your jam. [E]ngrossing.”––E!Online
"An assured and tender debut novel. Layden explores complex bonds between students and the slow-turning gears of a revered but old-fashioned institution."
––New York Times Book Review, Staff Pick
"Incisive, astute...Layden succeeds at bringing the effects of an institutional cover-up into sharp relief. "
“Readers will find themselves thinking about the vividly and compassionately rendered characters long after their chapters end, and considering decisions they would make in the same situations. Give it to grown-up fans of Gossip Girl and readers of Curtis Sittenfeld and Emma Straub.”
"Diving into the unprocessed underworld of adolescence, Layden creates space for a conversation about feminism and the unsung difficulties of surviving in a male-dominated world. Intelligent, evocative, and empathetic."
"An important take on sexuality and #MeToo from the perspective of the young."
“A striking debut.”
"Call it a 21st-century Prep or a Litchfield County Gossip Girl, but don't miss what's sure to become a touchstone among the beloved niche of boarding-school novels."
Town & Country
"What’s it like to attend a promising, prestigious New England prep school engulfed in a scandal it wants silenced? In All Girls, a diverse cast of nine young women offer shifting perspectives, discover their voices and navigate friendships and fears in the middle of crisis."
"A dark and exhilarating debut, Emily Layden's All Girls is sure to be one of 2021's most talked-about novels."
"A promising debut....this sensitive and innovative coming-of-age novel offers an insightful snapshot of a long-overdue institutional reckoning and the ripple effect it has on its students."
"With extraordinary insight and craft, All Girls explores what happens when Atwater, an all-girls boarding school, is rocked by allegations of sexual assault. All Girls kept me turning pages not only to uncover its central mystery but to discover something deeper: the surprises and secrets of this riveting cast of characters, in all of their full and complex humanity."
––Chloe Benjamin, New York Times bestselling author of The Immortalists
"All Girls is an exciting, innovative debut from a fresh and assured new voice. Emily Layden renders the fictional Atwater School in nuanced, honest, and rich depth, guiding its young characters with a tender and knowing hand. This is a sincere, poignant, and moving story of a group of teenage girls coming to terms with the world they've inherited.”
––Taylor Jenkins Reid, New York Times bestselling author of Daisy Jones and the Six
“Emily Layden’s debut, crafted with great care and empathy, is a shimmering, intelligent portrait of young women on the cusp of adulthood, navigating the complex landscape of feminine power and vulnerability.”
––Therese Anne Fowler, New York Times bestselling author of A Good Neighborhood
“An engrossing novel from start to finish, with characters who feel as real as your best friends and a message that’s all too relevant in a world where the boundaries defining consent remain dangerously blurred. I devoured it."
––Carola Lovering, author of Tell Me Lies
“Sexual awakening and institutional reckoning intertwine in this rich, kaleidoscopic debut. Layden wholly inhabits a dazzling cast of characters and renders The Atwater School as alive, infuriating, and unforgettable as its inhabitants.”
––Elizabeth Ames, author of The Other’s Gold
DEBUT Set in the privileged world of a 200-year-old Connecticut girls' boarding school, Layden's debut tells the story of teens' coming of age in the era of #MeToo. A rape accusation from 1995 has put Atwater in the news, but not in a good way for an institution that relies on its reputation. The novel is told from numerous girls' viewpoints, a technique that can be confusing but also demonstrates how some of the girls are less privileged and how underneath their outwardly perfect lives lie secrets and tragedy. Like all teenagers, the girls are learning about their own burgeoning sexuality while dealing with the failings and hypocrisy of the adults around them. The adult perspective comes through only via a few formal emails. As the book progresses, readers learn more about the possible rape and rapist, but it is never entirely clear what happened. What becomes obvious, however, is that the school, and society, have long preferred to protect its own reputations and comfortable beliefs rather than the vulnerable. VERDICT An important take on sexuality and #MeToo from the perspective of the young, including many references to pop culture and social media.—Jan Marry, Heritage P.L., New Kent & Charles City, VA
The students at an elite all-girls boarding school in Connecticut deal with the exposure of a sexual abuser on campus.
Each chapter is told from a different perspective, presenting a broad range of empathetic and undaunted portraits of Atwater students. The novel begins on the first day of school in the fall of 2015—notably prior to the #MeToo movement—with a sinister description of the northwest Connecticut setting: “This is where teenagers wrap themselves around telephone poles.” Someone has placed signs along the country roads leading to the pristine and cloistered school saying “A Rapist Works Here.” Parents are alarmed, students are curious, the administration falters. Questions of young women’s sexual agency, of power and abuse, are explored from a variety of student perspectives. Each chapter centers on a different girl, taking the reader through various grade levels, clubs, traditions, and friend groups on campus. As the year unfolds, the identity of the abuser is revealed, and it becomes clear that the school has been turning a purposeful blind eye to the scandal for decades. The reader could feel lost in the sea of characters, but chapter titles like “Orientation,” “Prom,” and “Commencement” offer clear signposts to the passage of time, helping the book feel like a novel rather than a short story collection. Diving into the unprocessed underworld of adolescence, Layden creates space for a conversation—albeit cloistered—about feminism and the unsung difficulties of surviving in a male-dominated world.
Intelligent, evocative, and empathetic.