St. James is an exclusive New England boarding school known for grooming generations of leaders. Ben Weeks is a true insider—his ancestors helped found St. James, his older brother taught him all the slang, and he's just won a national championship in squash. But after fourteen long years of waiting, Ben arrives at school only to find that the reality of St. James doesn't quite match up with his imaginings.
... elegiac ... The novel is a study of self-consciousness and a too gentle interrogation of upper-crust norms and codes. Tilney seems to argue that, if boarding school does not agree with Ben, then it cannot possibly agree with anyone ... Ben and his roommate, the child of an Emirati cigarette tycoon, never live on the page; Ben’s crush, Alice, is defined by not being defined by her large chest, which is about as narratively compelling as it sounds. Tilney appears to like his characters, and yet that affection never translates into specificity, intelligibility. What The Expectations does accomplish is the wholesale abandonment of the pretense that fancy, name-brand education has anything to do with academic or personal excellence.
Tilney’s sensitive and perceptive debut follows insecure, ambitious Ben Weeks through his first few months at an isolated New England prep school ... Writing primarily from Ben’s point of view, Tilney also alights for a sentence or two at a time in the minds of those who surround him, which adds depth to the narrative ... YAs will recognize the psychological and social challenges Ben faces and appreciate Tilney's recognition of the moral complexities of life as a teenager.
Debut author Tilney deftly limns the unchanging eponymous expectations ... Tilney also nails the changing social climate of the mid-1990s ... The third-person narrative is mostly from Ben’s perspective but from time to time pulls back jarringly to tell us what another character is thinking or to offer an Olympian overview of the shifting social landscape. Despite such infelicities, the novel paints a compassionate portrait of a confused young man ... Smart, shrewdly observed, and highly readable.