Reconstructing Amelia

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This was an interesting book to read.  And challenging to review.  Because on one hand, I want to yell from the rooftops “WOW!!  Read this, now!”  On the other hand, I think, “Eh. It’s ok…”  Why the dichotomy?  It is a good story. But is it great?

Kate is a single mom in New York City, a partner in a law firm, busy, stressed, happy to have an intelligent, independent daughter in Amelia, who understands her schedule.   Amelia attends an exclusive private school, Grace Hall, and dreams of going to Princeton to be a writer.  She’s a lock for it.

Until she is caught cheating on an English paper, and suspended.  Until she jumps from the roof of the school, in despair.

And a month later, after returning to work, unable to deal with the loneliness of her empty brownstone, Kate receives an anonymous text:  She didn’t jump

What follows is the story of an anguished mother who begins to feel like she didn’t know her own daughter.  She reads Amelia’s texts and Facebook posts and reconstructs her life, sifting through emails, texts, and social media to get to the truth about the last days of her life.

Kimberly McCreight’s debut novel is interesting. The idea behind the book is fantastic; the story is developed well, and I love the social media posts and texts that Kate follows as she deciphers Amelia’s last days. It begins with a great punch. The gossip blog gRaCeFULLY sets the mood for the entire novel with a nasty, celebrity-magazine tone.

This is another story in alternating voices, and alternating times, giving both the girl and her mother a chance to live the same experiences.  Amelia is in the present, immersed in experiences first hand, unable to see the forest for the trees.  Kate sees the same experiences with wisdom of age and hindsight.  It is a story of secrets, of love, of discovery and of betrayal, of bullies, and of friends you thought you knew.

In the end, it is about how well a mother ever really knows her daughter.

My issue with the novel was McCreight did not let us draw our own conclusions. She is a victim of her own ideas, and a bit unsure about conveying them. She can’t let the reader follow the story and make his or her own assumptions about personalities or relationships.  She leads the reader by the hand through everything, and the story loses spontaneity.

The characters are not totally believable, but again, that is McCreight’s inexperience as a writer showing through.  The bones of a fantastic book are all there.

So read this book.  The story will leave you guessing.  Enjoy it for the excellent ideas and twists and turns.  Decipher the texts and try to guess the players involved.  They all come as a surprise.

Appropriate for all teens.

Reconstructing Amelia is published by Harper Perennial.

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