Tuesday, April 14, 2015

"Reconstructing Amelia": Mean girls on steroids

It's not often after I read a book that I look at my daughters ages 10 and 5 and fear for their future.  I hugged them tightly after I read "Reconstructing Amelia" by Kimberly McCreight, and told them very seriously, "I'm here for you no matter what happens in your lives.  Know that you can always count on me to listen and be here for you." Who knows what they will encounter by the time they are each 15 years old like the main character Amelia in McCreight's suspenseful debut novel.

Like so many of the other books I have posted about lately, this book also was compared to "Gone Girl" which is a silly comparison since the subject material is so much different.  "Reconstructing Amelia" focuses on the dark world of secret clubs at Grace Hall, a prestigious private school in Brooklyn and "Gone Girl" isn't really about that at all.   Maybe the comparisons come from the suspense, the unraveling of the mystery, and the dual narrations, but that is really where the comparisons should end.

The suspense forces the reader to turn page after page as each secret unfolds.  After Kate receives a phone call from Grace Hall's dean of students , informing her that her daughter had been suspended for plagiarizing a paper and that she had to pick her up NOW,  Kate freaks a bit and is puzzled. How could her over-achieving, introverted daughter ever be in trouble? Once Kate rearranges her high powered attorney schedule for the day, she arrives to get her daughter over an hour late only to discover emergency vehicles at the school.  She finds out, to her horror, that her beloved only child Amelia is dead from a supposed suicide. Kate doesn't believe that Amelia would ever jump off of the roof of Grace Hall, but her grief keeps her from questioning.  It's not until she receives an anonymous text that reads "Amelia didn't jump" that Kate decides to delve deeper into what really happened to her daughter.  What she discovers shatters her image of Amelia's social life, and makes her question herself as a mother. The suspense of the narration as Kate probes deeper into her daughter's recent history and the secret club she joined is startling.  Can girls really be this mean? Do clubs like this exist? Would a school really be this negligent in helping the girls who are bullied?

Yes, just like in "Gone Girl" there are multiple narrators in this book.  There are also parts of the book which are told through emails, blog posts, and text messages.  Although that seems a bit cliche given the fact that many YA authors have worn out the multi-genre format for a book, it works here.  What gave me a little bit of pause was Kate's character.  Amelia's narration reveals her to be mostly an innocent who was left alone often and made choices based on the moment because her support system (her mostly absent but loving mother and her completely self-centered, and acidic best friend, Sylvia) were non-existent.  Kate, on the other hand, comes off a bit clumsy especially for a high powered attorney.

Yes, there is a mystery surrounding the death of a main character which reveals horrible secrets.  I loved the suspense of the book until close to the end when the truths start tumbling out all over the place.  At that point it was hard for me to believe and maybe I just didn't like what really happened or the too tidy wrap up of all the events.  The girls were just sooooooooo mean and unfeeling, and their parents were just as callous.  On top of that, the improbability that a bereft mom would be able to have such a huge part in the investigation of her daughter's death AND never really run into huge road blocks during the unveiling of the truth was far fetched.

Regardless of the few flaws of the book, I devoured it and know that anyone who is looking for a quick, stimulating summer (or anytime) read will love the edginess of "Reconstructing Amelia." If anything, it will make you ask your kids what they are REALLY up to in school and in their private lives, maybe even check their text messages and Facebook pages.  If your kids are too young for all the stuff that clutters our lives and seemingly takes over the lives of our teenagers, just give your kids a good big hug and tell them that you love them, and maybe ask them to stay kids for as long as possible.

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