The Year of the Gadfly by Jennifer Miller

Title: The Year of the Gadfly
Author: Jennifer Miller

Genre: Fiction (Private School / Coming of Age / Massachusetts / Teacher - Student Relationships / Secret Society / Suicide)
Publisher/Publication Date: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (5/8/2012)
Source: TLC Book Tours

Rating: Loved.
Did I finish?: I did, in about four hours.
One-sentence summary: One private school, three students, and the scandal that entangles them.

Do I like the cover?: I do -- it's kind of pretty/ugly (in a good way!), and there is a tiny gadfly on the cover (I presume) -- I nice nod to the gadfly which is a theme in this book.

First line: The days were already growing shorter, prodding us toward summer's end, when my mother and I left Boston for the sequestered town of Nye.

Buy, Borrow, or Avoid?: Borrow or buy: a delightful, dark, moving, and engrossing novel of high school, belonging, and moving on.

Why did I get this book?: I was there at Edward R. Morrow as someone's imaginary friend.

Review: Flail city ahead: I loved this book.

From the first page, I was totally taken with Iris, one of our heroes, a 14-year old aspiring journalist whose best friend is Edward R. Morrow. (Yes, I saw so so much of teenaged self in her!) After her best friend kills herself and Iris' mother catches her chatting with Morrow, Iris and her family move toward western Massachusetts, and Iris is sent to the elite private school, Mariana Academy.

The other voices in this novel were as compelling as Iris': Dr. Jonah Kaplan, Iris' science teacher and a former Mariana student himself; and Lily Morgan, a classmate of Jonah's, daughter of Mariana's former headmaster. All three characters have faced terrible tragedy and loss in their life; Iris' attempt to emulate Morrow causes her to discover more secrets about Mariana than even she wanted.

But that description sounds super light and trite, and this novel wasn't. This book was darkly fun, and deeply sad, and very twisted, and I loved every page. Jonah is my age, and watching him reflect on being an outcast at the school he now teaches at was fascinating and discomforting. Iris is precocious and ambitious and out of her emotional depths -- I remember that from my high school years.

Darting through the story is the themes of bullying and belonging, popular versus unpopular, students against teachers. What I thought would be a clear cut coming-of-age story set in a snooty private New England school (a la Old School or A Separate Peace) was more complicated; in a post-Columbine world with the internet, cameras, and webcams, what remains private or public is matter of whim, accident, or mercy. Iris struggles with journalistic integrity as she fights with Morrow, but she's 14 and arguing with a construct of her mind; Jonah wants to improve the lives of his students without getting embroiled in the school's internal drama and he has his own ghosts -- and desires -- to deal with.

Miller's writing is fantastic -- Iris is hilarious, kept-me-snortling-in-bed funny -- and I raced through this book, both for the mystery and because I wanted more. I wanted to bathe in the characters. (And I was reminded of why I could never, ever be a high school teacher. Props to them, 'cuz wow.)

In short, this is a fantastically fun novel and you should read it. I can't wait for Miller's next novel.

*** *** ***

GIVEAWAY!

I'm thrilled to offer a copy of The Year of the Gadfly to one lucky winner! To enter, fill out this brief form. Open to US/CA readers, ends 5/25.

Comments

  1. I should be reading this one shortly, and am excited. I read another review yesterday, and coupled with yours, it seems like this is a book that will make me think. I enjoyed your review very much, and am so glad that you liked the book! I must get to it soon!

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    1. I can't wait for your thoughts -- I saw one very negative review that had me apprehensive but I just adored everything about this book (clearly) -- it just seized me and I couldn't let go!

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  2. I held off on this one since I seem to have too many boarding/private school books in my pile right now. I am off to enter the giveaway though!

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    1. I can appreciate that but this one is so worth a read -- so fun!

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  3. I'm glad you loved it! As you know I didn't! :--) But it certainly did bring up a lot to discuss!

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    1. I know -- and I was sooo apprehensive while reading -- I wish we were local and could chat because I would love to dig into this -- discussions always help me see what I didn't, etc.

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  4. Both forms on the entry asked for a name, but the second one was for an email address. No big thing. And thanks for the review. Sounds like a good one.

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    1. Thanks for letting me know -- I clearly was working too quickly! I updated the form -- thanks for entering. This was a fabu book!

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  5. Yay, now I'm even more excited to read this! Sounds like it'll have a lot of appeal for both young adults and regular adults. :)

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    1. Yes, totally -- I found I could relate to both the 14 year old and the 30 year old characters -- which was awesome/chilling!

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  6. I'm glad there's a balance between the fun and the darkness. And calling it "twisted" certainly gets my attention!

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    1. I thought the balance was so well done -- what was sad was sad but there was such great humor at moments -- unfhgh -- so good!

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  7. Well that's two good reviews from bloggers I trust for this book. I wish I would have been able to fit in the tour but either way it looks like I'll have to pick the book up.

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    1. Boo, too bad you couldn't! Not to brag, but it was worth it! ;) I do hope you get to this one!

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  8. I can't believe I've never heard of this one -- it sounds like exactly something I would like! I'm a sucker for stories about journalists, aspiring or otherwise. Will definitely be looking for it.

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    1. Meg -- You'd love this one, I think -- journalism, journalistic integrity, Morrow's life -- all of it is in this book, seen through the lens of someone who's still a kid. It's delightful -- just absolutely wonderful.

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  9. I agree with Anna that you have my attention when you say "twisted"

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    1. Then you two will dig this one, hardcore! :)

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  10. Oh, I'm so glad that I saw your comment on another blog. She wasn't a fan and was basically saying none of the characters were likeable. I thought Hmmm too bad because it kind of sounds like it would make a good film. This review has me excited about it!
    I'm also excited because I just found your blog and I like it and will be back!

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    1. This would make a smashing film, I think -- the characters and story are so evocative and well done, I can just visualize everyone. I'm so thrilled you found me and vice versa -- I love movies-based-on-books!

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  11. There is so much about this book that speaks to me. I didn't think any part of your review made the book sound trite or light. It sounds like most of the characters have struggled with some heavt stuff at one oint or another, which always informs who you are (I think). And there's nothinf trite about growing up and doing so amongst a big group of kids tryinh to grow up too! I'm glad you liked this book so much and laughed while reading! I like that the author included many relevant and captivating issues that are part of society today.
    Great review, Audra and thank you for the giveaway!

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    1. Oh, I was so charmed by this one -- and scared -- and amused -- and frightened. It was all that and more. Unfgh -- I could reread!

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  12. I'm drawn to private school stories for some reason so this book looks really appealing to me.

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  13. Audra you have such an amazing way of putting things ... "I wanted to bathe in the characters" is a phrase that will stick with me forever. I love it!

    I'm so glad you found this to be such an amazing book! I can't wait to read it myself.

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  14. Excellent review, I was hooked at Morrow too!

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