Reconstructing Amelia by Kimberly McCreight
When a novel sets itself up on the front cover to be compared to Gone Girl (my review here), and in other places I’ve seen it compared to Donna Tartt’s The Secret History, it raises the bar rather high…
Kate is a hard-working lawyer and single mum to teenage daughter Amelia, who appears to have been doing alright at her posh Brooklyn high school, despite her workaholic mum’s absences, and not knowing who her father is. When she is at home, Kate tries really hard and she and Amelia have a good relationship but, as she will find out, she has no idea at all of what’s going on in her daughter’s life, until one tragic day.
On that day, Kate is about to start one of the biggest presentations of her career, when she gets a call from her daughter’s school. Amelia, the hard-studying, academic, over-achieving student has been suspended for plagiarising an essay about Virginia Woolf, and Kate is required to collect her pronto. By the time Kate arrives, having got delayed in the subway, Amelia is dead. They say she jumped off the school roof.
It’s not until a couple of months later that Kate is together enough to question things, and when she receives an anonymous text that matches her own instincts – Amelia didn’t jump, she persuades the police to reopen the investigation. Gradually Kate, and Detective Lew Thompson will piece together what happened, as layer upon layer of secrets and lies are exposed. No-one, it seems, is squeaky clean – teachers, parents, pupils, friends, or colleagues, and the school is awash with teenagers exploring their sexuality, secret clubs and bullying.
The story mainly alternates between Kate and Amelia’s voices through flashbacks. Kate’s chapters are mostly in the present as she investigates her daughter’s life. Her past sections are from 1997, when she as a promising young lawyer got pregnant. Amelia’s chapters are all from the months preceding her death, and they include her text messages and Facebook statuses. The only times we don’t hear from Kate or Amelia are blog posts from the school’s anonymously authored scandal sheet.
I predicted the key ending early on, but other developments were less telegraphed, and there were some genuine surprises. Although Kate was being put through the wringer with everything that happened, and for a mother losing a child is such a tragedy, I found Kate’s need for validation that she wasn’t really a bad mother a little tiring. I was more interested in Amelia’s story and finding out the identities of secret texters and bloggers.
Despite the book being based around a high school, there is too much sex and swearing to recommend this as a YA novel, but it should appeal to slightly older New Adult readers. I enjoyed it too, but it’s not in the same league as those other two page-turners I mentioned back at the top. (7/10)
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Source: Review copy from publisher – Thank you. To explore further on Amazon UK, please click below:
Reconstructing Amelia by Kimberley McCreight, Simon & Schuster paperback 2013, 380 pages.
The Secret History by Donna Tartt
Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn