The Chandler Legacies, a short review

This short book review of The Chandler Legacies, by Abdi Nazemian, results from a total enjoyment of reading other titles in the author’s award-winning portfolio and from feeling at home in the setting of this particular novel: a writing group, which serves as the common element among the work’s several varying characters.

In The Chandler Legacies, Nazemian has created an exclusive setting, an elite, extracurricular writing group known as the Circle, at a small New England boarding school named Chandler. Only five students are selected for the Circle every school year, and Professor Hattie Douglas has named this year’s honored group:

  • sophomore Beth Kramer, a “townie” who lives near Chandler and had bad experiences—stemming from her own anxiety issues—with her roommate as a freshman;
  • Sarah Brunson, the former roommate, now a champion for diversity and inclusion;
  • Amanda Priya “Spence” Spencer, a popular and confident acting student and aspiring playwright whose parents are very well known and successful;
  • Ramin Golifshar, a transfer student from Iran, forced to leave the conflicts of his homeland and his boyfriend behind, and introspective author of an admission letter that fast-tracked him to the Circle; and
  • Freddy Bello, a star pole-vaulter not sure about what he wants his future to hold.

The Circle links these five students through its challenges to reflect and its push for thoughtfulness. But with their differences, the year starts off a little cautiously. At the group’s first gathering, the following exchanges take place:

“So we’ve established that this is not a cult of any kind and not an arm of the Church of Scientology. And we also know that it’s a writing workshop. What else is it?”
     “It’s a safe space,” Beth says . . .
     Douglas practically leaps out of her chair when Beth says this. “Aha,” Douglas says. “Elaborate, Beth.”
     “Oh,” Beth says, “I mean, I don’t know. It’s just a place for us to be . . . safe.”
     Ramin looks like he wants to say something, but he doesn’t, so Brunson jumps in. “It’s a place for us to explore who we are without worrying that we’ll be wrong or that we’ll be gossiped about or . . .” She drifts off, staring at Douglas for some sign that she’s on the right track. But Douglas doesn’t give her an encouraging aha like she did for Beth, so she deflates mid-thought.
     “I like what you just said.” Douglas crouches down next to Brunson, so they’re at each other’s eye level. “Exploring who we are. What’s the best way to explore who we are?” There’s a long silence, which Douglas fills by saying, “This isn’t a room that cares about right or wrong answers. Say what comes to you. How do you explore who you are?”
     “Writing?” Ramin asks nervously.
     Douglas leaps back up and points to Ramin. “Writing. Tell me more, any of you.”
     “Well, anything we write is a reflection of who we are,” Spence says. “Kind of like how a painting says more about the painter than the subject.”
     “Ah,” Douglas says. “So in a way, even fiction is non-fiction, because it reflects the author’s truth.”

As an editor, I found Professor Douglas’s advice to be enlightening because it reinforced some of my own beliefs and teachings.

“Self-editing is the enemy of creativity,” Douglas says. “There is always time to edit and rewite. In fact, that’s when all the best writing happens. But you can’t edit and rewrite something that doesn’t exist. And trust me, your writing won’t exist if you edit as you go. You need to let go. It’s the same with any endeavor. You practice, practice, practice, but when it’s time to do the task you let go of everything and trust yourself. Isn’t that right, Freddy?”
     “Oh, I don’t really know,” Freddy says. “I’m so new to writing. I’m just an athlete.”
     “Just an athlete?” Douglas repeats. “Writing is athletics. It’s playing an instrument. It’s something that requires endless practice, and then the ability to let go. I assume you’ve spent countless hours practicing your pole vaulting, Freddy.”
     He nods.
     “But I also assume that when it’s time to compete, you need to put all that out of your mind and trust your instincts.”
     “Yeah, I guess.”
     Douglas turns to Spence. “Amanda, I assume the same is true for acting. You rehearse and rehearse, but on the night of the show, you trust that the lines will come to you, and you let the emotion take over.”
     “Yeah, that’s exactly what it’s like,” Spence says.
     “Okay, well, writing is the same. You’re going to be writing more than you ever have. You’ll get your practice in. But when I ask you to write, I don’t want you to stop, or question what comes to you, or cross anything out. That’s why we write in pen.”

Parts of this young-adult novel continue to explore the writing craft and the students’ journeys in writing. However, ultimately, The Chandler Legacies is more an exploration of personal growth; the oppressive challenges of abuse, harrassment, and hazing; the potential influence of language; and the testiment of friendship and support.

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originally posted January 6, 2024; 
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image information: Featured image used via Balzer+Bray, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers.

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