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
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.
*** *** ***
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