Seven Deadlies: A Cautionary Tale
When I was deciding where to go to undergrad, I was drawn to the small universities for wealthy hippies (I was neither wealthy nor a hippie, but, for whatever reason, these were the schools I liked).
These schools are basically the higher-education versions of Montessori schools, and there are more of them out there than you’d think. They are teeny-tiny (total student body is generally well under 2,000, and the average class size is about 10 students). Some don’t use letter grades; they have written evaluations instead. Independent studies, create-your-own-major programs, and unique class offerings (like “”Cross-Species Ensemble: Human and Animal Sonics”) are as prevalent as traditional courses. Vegetarian and vegan options abound at the various restaurants and cafés on campus. Study-abroad opportunities are available on every continent. Performing arts are huge; sports are not (aside from club sports like ultimate Frisbee, of course). Students call their professors by their first names and meet them for fireside small-group chats at the on-campus, free-trade coffee shops.
One of the schools I visited during my search was Bennington College. When it comes to small universities for wealthy hippies, Bennington is the front-runner. On Princeton Review’s list of colleges for “Birkenstock-Wearing, Tree-Hugging, Clove-Smoking Vegetarians,” it ranks #1 (yes, this is an actual list and an actual ranking). It is located in the super-hippie town of Bennington, Vermont (one of the hippiest places on Earth). And, not surprisingly, it is grossly expensive (tuition for the 2013-14 academic year is $44,490; room and board is over $13,000).
Famous alums of Bennington College include Peter Dinklage (of Game of Thrones fame) and Justin Theroux (of Jennifer Anniston fame). It is also known for spitting out some pretty talented writers, like Donna Tartt and Bret Easton Ellis.
I eventually decided Bennington wasn’t for me (and headed to the West Coast, land of rain and real hippies). But I certainly understand the school’s appeal, which is why I was initially drawn to this book. Seven Deadlies is written as a college application essay (or, more accurately, collection of essays) to the Bennington Admissions Committee.
The applicant is Perry Gonzales, a fourteen-year-old scholarship student at Mark Frost Academy, an elite private high school in Beverly Hills. She is “full-blooded Chicana,” the daughter of a single mother (a hard-working nurse, “the very wise and formidable (even at four feet, ten inches) Yelena Maria Gonzales”), a talented clarinet player, and one of the best students at Mark Frost.
To earn spending money, Perry has been babysitting since she was eight. Upon arriving at Mark Frost Academy, she is immediately approached by parents of the very rich and very obnoxious (“It’s not that the kids are dumb; it’s worse, much worse. They’re entitled.”) to babysit/tutor.
Her college application is a series of stories relating her babysitting misadventures. Each story describes a different charge with a different sin:
- Lust: Porcha Crisp Blogsnot, who has an undying love for the members of the Judas Brothers, a teen musical group (much like the Jonas Brothers).
- Wrath: Angry little Willie Wankre, who terrorizes his parents and twin sisters.
- Gluttony: Angus Willhelm, who was 120 pounds as a round one-year-old and has gotten bigger every year since.
- Greed: Rodney Bartholomew, a 7th-grader whose idol is Bernie Madoff.
- Sloth: Timmy Turkle, a wan 14-year-old, with bug eyes and bulbous thumbs, who plays video games nonstop.
- Envy: The gorgeous Ekaterina Schadenfreude, who not only wants what everyone else has, but wants to be exactly like everyone else.
- Pride: Connor Superbiae, who is a National Merit Scholar, has millions of Instagram followers, is a talented musician, and is the greatest high-school athlete in the world.
Rating: 2/5 📝
I’ve seen this story done well before. Most of us have. It’s a lovely book called Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Surely you remember the gluttonous Augustus Gloop or the greedy Veruca Salt?
All of the shitty, sinful kids get their comeuppance, and the good kid wins in the end. Hurray!
This book wanted to be like Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (i.e., clever, original, funny, a little dark and twisted, and EXCELLENT) . . . but it fell FAR short. Gigi Levangie is no Roald Dahl.
Here’s what Seven Deadlies has going for it:
- A lovely cover design in orange and green (my two favorite colors) and fun, full-color illustrations of each of the deadly sins;
- It is a mere 224 pages (thank God); and
- A clever premise with LOADS of potential.
Here is why it fails:
- The book is a compilation of fairly good ideas that are horribly executed. The story/plot/premise itself is the biggest example, but there are others, like: the fact that the aforementioned illustrations of each of the deadly sins are all clumped together at the end of the book as an afterthought. It would have been so much better if the representative illustration had immediately preceded or followed each deadly sin;
- The writing is not nearly as funny (or good) as intended. Instead, it comes across as cloying and cutesie and annoying and simple and dumb. There was such potential for good satire and parody, but Levangie just couldn’t get it right;
- The individual sin stories are hastily concluded, not well developed, and feel rushed; and
- There is a twist ending that is just dumb.
Who should read it: Don’t read it. Read (or re-read) Charlie and the Chocolate Factory instead.