IRENA SMITH at Books Inc. Palo Alto

Author image of Irena Smith and cover photo of her book The Golden Ticket

Books Inc. Palo Alto proudly welcomes local author Irena Smith to the shop for a celebration of her humorous and illuminating memoir The Golden Ticket: A Life in College Admission Essays!

In this funny, heartbreaking, timely memoir--told in the form of college admission essays--Irena Smith illuminates the dissonance of working as a college consultant in Palo Alto, California, helping the best and brightest students in the country gain admission to highly selective schools, even as her own children are unraveling.

Palo Alto, California, is home to stratospheric real estate prices and equally high expectations, a place where everyone has to be good at something and where success is often defined by the name of a prestigious college on the back of a late-model luxury car. It's also the place where Irena Smith--Soviet émigré, PhD in comparative literature, former Stanford admission reader--works as a private college counselor to some of the country's most ambitious and tightly wound students . . . even as, at home, her own children struggle.

Narrated as a series of responses to college application essay prompts, The Golden Ticket combines sharp social commentary, family history, and the lessons of great (and not so great) literature to offer a broader, more generous vision of what it means to succeed.


"Tackling childhood and parenting in a new way, The Golden Ticket shows that growing up in America is an increasingly difficult job. With humor and pathos, Irena Smith draws the reader behind the curtain of college admissions, where life is more complicated than any kid's file."

--Malcolm Harris, author of Kids These Days and Palo Alto

"At a time of an unprecedented youth mental health crisis, Irena Smith's addictively engaging, literary, witty, and heartrending memoir couldn't be more timely and important. Thank goodness she had the courage, smarts, and perfect perspective--at "the intersection of unbridled ambition and family dysfunction"--to create it."

--Katherine Ellison, Pulitzer-prize winning journalist and author of books including Buzz: A Year of Paying Attention

"Irena Smith has crafted a brilliant, hilarious, and keenly perceptive memoir that should be required reading for any parent--especially those Type-A among us who know exactly what child we'd like to order from the menu. College application essays and parental aspirations part like curtains to reveal the ever-daunting challenge of raising humans into adulthood."

--Sonya Huber, author of Voice First: A Writer's Manifesto

"I started reading and couldn't stop. Irena Smith has written a remarkable memoir of her life--painfully honest, touching, and marvelously funny, mixing wisdom about the madness of college admission today and her own family story."

--Jon Reider, coauthor of Admission Matters, former Stanford admission officer, and cofounder of SLE, Stanford's freshman humanities program


Irena Smith was born in the former Soviet Union and grew up in Moscow in the waning days of the Brezhnev regime; in 1977, her family emigrated from the USSR and sought asylum in the United States as political refugees. She has been published in HIAS@130: 1+30: The Best of myStory, Mama, PhD: Women Write about Motherhood and Academic LifeLiterary Mama and Art in the Time of Unbearable Crisis. She has a PhD in comparative literature from UCLA and lives in Palo Alto, California.


Event date: 
Thursday, April 20, 2023 - 7:00pm
Event address: 
Books Inc.
855 El Camino Real, #74
Palo Alto, CA 94301
The Golden Ticket: A Life in College Admissions Essays By Irena Smith Cover Image
ISBN: 9781647424640
Availability: In Stock Now - Click Title to See Store Inventory. Please allow up to 48-hours for Curbside Pickup orders to be processed.
Published: She Writes Press - April 18th, 2023