Silicon Valley novel THE WONDER TEST tackles achievement obsession
My new Silicon Valley novel, THE WONDER TEST, hits shelves today. This novel was a long time in the making, a final draft in hand months before the college admissions scandal hit the news. Although THE WONDER TEST isn’t about college admissions or cheating, it is about high-stakes education. The real-life scandal gave credence to the novel’s underlying premise: that the over-the-top pursuit of a community-sanctioned version of “excellence” can rise to cultish and terrifying levels.
In THE WONDER TEST, recently widowed FBI agent Lina Connerly relocates from New York City to an affluent suburb in Silicon Valley with her teenaged son, Rory, to clear out her father’s home and get her life back in order after a series of traumatic setbacks.
After enrolling Rory in the public school, which is obsessed with an annual exam called the Wonder Test that has put the small town of Greenfield on the map, Lina is drawn into a mystery involving local teens who go missing. Meanwhile, colleagues back in New York keep trying to rope her back into an old espionage case that needs her attention.
In a review of THE WONDER TEST for the San Francisco Chronicle, Anita Felicelli writes, “Contemporary fiction set in or around Silicon Valley doesn’t always reach far enough with its absurdity and speculation. Richmond’s eighth work of fiction, “ The Wonder Test,” hits the right notes. It is a madcap suspense novel with a clever premise.”
What a blast this novel was to write! Inspired in part by a move to a small town south of San Francisco 12 years ago, and in part by nearly 25 years as an FBI spouse, this “sharply written, subtly satirical thriller” ( Publishers Weekly) imagines high-achieving parents and communities in Silicon Valley willing to put their children through the most extreme paces in pursuit of excellence. THE WONDER TEST also pays homage to Shirley Jackson, author of the famous short story “The Lottery,” a chilling tale about good citizens committing heinous crimes against their own. Jackson lived and wrote for years in the neighborhood where THE WONDER TEST is set.
THE WONDER TEST is also about grief: how we go on and rebuild our lives after the foundation has crumbled, and how work can be a solid force that helps us survive the worst. Incorporating Lina’s background in counterintelligence, it also contains elements of a spy novel.
The most enjoyable part of the book, however, was writing the WONDER TEST questions at the beginning of each chapter —
- “Square feet is to cubic feet as time is to what?”
- “Provide examples to illustrate the term ‘diminishing returns’ without providing so many examples as to achieve diminishing returns.”
The questions were inspired by many years puzzling over oddly worded elementary school and middle school homework, during which my husband, son and I attempted to find not oly the “right” answer but also the correct path to the answers for a series of increasingly absurd questions.
If a Silicon Valley thriller with a side of the seriously weird is your kind of story, you can buy the book at your local independent bookstore, or you can purchase it online through your favorite retailer.