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All Souls Summary

The Siddons School senior class of 1997 consists of forty mostly well-to-do girls from New York City’s finest families. There are a few minorities: two Hispanics, one Asian, one black, and a scholarship student, the one girl everyone dislikes. There is also Astra Dell, a vibrant, red-headed dancer who is dying of an extremely rare form of cancer. Although Astra is one of the in-crowd, these friends rarely come to visit her in the hospital. The one girl that does come every day, the one who brings Astra’s homework, is the “dirty” girl whom everyone dislikes, the scholarship student Marlene Kovack.

The rare hospital visits are understandable. Senior girls at this elite Manhattan prep school are busy. There are AP classes to conquer, college application essays to write, graduation videos to film, and personalized yearbook pages to create. Casting a pall over all of their graduation activities is the constant reminder that Astra Dell probably will not live to graduate. The girls acknowledge that Astra’s cancer is scary and unfair, but they do not think about Astra very often amid the excitement of senior year. When someone does bring up Astra’s name, the girls cry and recall bits and pieces of Astra’s past life among them, but Astra’s hospital room is a cold, antiseptic place that no one wants to visit. Sickness is frightening; death even more so. Carlotta Forestal has been Astra’s friend since preschool, but Carlotta has only visited twice. Mostly, she writes stark and depressing letters, some of which she sends to Astra, some of which she keeps. Marlene Kovack is not afraid to visit Astra, however, and sometimes Marlene steals Carlotta’s letters to spy on her relationship with Astra. Marlene wants to supplant Carlotta as Astra’s best friend.

A motley crew of teachers interacts with the students at Siddons. Janet Wilkes is having a sexual liaison with one of her female students, Lisa Van de Ven. She is uncomfortable when Lisa calls her “Miss Wilkes” when they are together out of school. English teacher Anna Mazur longs to be the students’ favorite teacher. She is in love with the handsome school bachelor, Tim Weeks, who views her as merely a friend and colleague. The popular Mr. Weeks is more at ease among a throng of adoring teenage girls who do not expect him to act like an adult man capable of sustaining a relationship with a woman his own age. Dr. Meltzer is a fat chemistry teacher whom most of the girls dislike. Mr. O’Brien has a wife and young baby, yet he is in love with Kitty Johnson, one of his advisory students. There is also an assortment of foreign language teachers, dance teachers, math teachers, science teachers, and guidance counselors who are willing to sacrifice a well-paid public school position for the prestige of saying they are Siddons teachers.

The Siddons parents are mostly dysfunctional. The wealthy Mortons of the soup family fortune give lavish parties and host fundraisers. They have donated millions of dollars to Brown University hoping to ensure their daughter Suki’s acceptance. Carlotta Forestal’s mother is distant and does not understand her daughter. Obsessed with her own weight, she is not convinced that her daughter has an eating disorder and insincerely promises Carlotta’s teachers that she will look into it. Carlotta’s father is gay, drinks too much, and tells Carlotta that she is fat. Mr. Forestal lives in Paris while maintaining an apartment in New York City as well as homes around the country. When he drinks, he is inappropriate with Carlotta. As a result, Carlotta is depressed and has an eating disorder. Lisa Van de Ven’s mother is an alcoholic who embarrasses her daughter at school events. She insists that Astra’s father, David, buy an atrocious red wig for Astra when chemo destroys Astra’s beautiful head of hair. Astra never wears the wig. David Dell has already buried a wife who died in a freak car accident and now he must watch his only daughter,...

(The entire section is 1,250 words.)