Book Review: Reconstructing Amelia by Kimberly McCreight

I’ve been meaning to pick up Reconstructing Amelia since last year when everyone was calling it “the next Gone Girl.”  And while it certainly kept me on my toes and was as hard to put down as Gone Girl, I didn’t find any other similarities between the two. Plus, I completely agree with the general consensus that the ending to Gone Girl is THE WORST. And the ending to Reconstructing Amelia is only kind of disappointing.

But I’m already ahead of myself.

Here’s the description from the publisher:

A stunning debut novel in which a single mother reconstructs her teenaged daughter’s life, sifting through her emails, texts, and social media to piece together the shocking truth about the last days of her life.

Litigation lawyer and harried single mother Kate Baron is stunned when her daughter’s exclusive private school in Park Slope, Brooklyn, calls with disturbing news: her intelligent, high-achieving fifteen-year-old daughter, Amelia, has been caught cheating.

Kate can’t believe that Amelia, an ambitious, levelheaded girl who’s never been in trouble would do something like that. But by the time she arrives at Grace Hall, Kate’s faced with far more devastating news. Amelia is dead.

Seemingly unable to cope with what she’d done, a despondent Amelia has jumped from the school’s roof in an act of “spontaneous” suicide. At least that’s the story Grace Hall and the police tell Kate. And overwhelmed as she is by her own guilt and shattered by grief, it is the story that Kate believes until she gets the anonymous text:

She didn’t jump.

Sifting through Amelia’s emails, text messages, social media postings, and cell phone logs, Kate is determined to learn the heartbreaking truth about why Amelia was on Grace Hall’s roof that day-and why she died.

Told in alternating voices, Reconstructing Amelia is a story of secrets and lies, of love and betrayal, of trusted friends and vicious bullies. It’s about how well a parent ever really knows a child and how far one mother will go to vindicate the memory of a daughter whose life she could not save.

It was interesting to read this book after reading another Gillian Flynn book, Dark Places and while I still had Dare Me in the forefront of my mind. I was reminded of how much I sometimes like to read books that have similar plots one right after another. I liked Reconstrucing Ameila more than the other two though. I liked the characters, I cared about what really happened to Amelia, I sympathized with Kate, and for the most part, the plot kept me guessing. It became more and more predictable as the story went on and as I mentioned above, I was a little disappointed with the ending.

But overall, I enjoyed reading it and would recommend it. I would even recommend reading all three books in succession and toss in a viewing of Megan is Missing if you’d like to become 100% convinced that Megan Abbott was spot on when she wrote that “there’s something dangerous about the boredom of teenage girls.”

And with that delightful recommendation, I’d also suggest that you end that experience with Fangirl to remind yourself that it gets better.

Book Review: Dare Me by Megan Abbott

There’s something dangerous about the boredom of teenage girls.

Here is the publisher’s description:

Addy Hanlon has always been Beth Cassidy’s best friend and trusted lieutenant. Beth calls the shots and Addy carries them out, a long-established order of things that has brought them to the pinnacle of their high-school careers. Now they’re seniors who rule the intensely competitive cheer squad, feared and followed by the other girls — until the young new coach arrives.

Cool and commanding, an emissary from the adult world just beyond their reach, Coach Colette French draws Addy and the other cheerleaders into her life. Only Beth, unsettled by the new regime, remains outside Coach’s golden circle, waging a subtle but vicious campaign to regain her position as “top girl” — both with the team and with Addy herself.

Then a suicide focuses a police investigation on Coach and her squad. After the first wave of shock and grief, Addy tries to uncover the truth behind the death — and learns that the boundary between loyalty and love can be dangerous terrain.

The raw passions of girlhood are brought to life in this taut, unflinching exploration of friendship, ambition, and power. Award-winning novelist Megan Abbott, writing with what Tom Perrotta has hailed as “total authority and an almost desperate intensity,” provides a harrowing glimpse into the dark heart of the all-American girl.

I’m still not entirely sure what to think about Dare Me. On the one hand, it’s unlike anything I’ve ever read, and in a good way. I read reviews that called it “Bring it On meets Macbeth” and “Heathers meets Fight Club,” and thought ‘well that sounds amazing’ and immediately added it to my library queue. Those comparisons are certainly accurate. There were parts that made me roll my eyes and think ‘this is so unrealistic,’ and I had to remind myself that it was intentionally written to be stylized and overwrought. The writing is beautiful, but sometimes reminded me of thoughts I’ve had after a few glasses of wine. Everything that happened to and around these girls was just heavy.

On the other hand, I find it hard to connect to a piece of fiction if I can’t relate to at least one character, and I think that contributed to the ambiguity I felt throughout this book. There is not one relatable character in the bunch. Beth is domineering and cruel. Coach is an immature ice queen. Even the narrator, Addy, is an unsentimental, cold bitch. She and the other girls on the squad seem to be suffering, but it’s never clear exactly why or from what. These are not angst-ridden teenagers, these are girls who exhibit the world-weariness of women three times their age. There’s little in the way of exposition, and the tidbit from their past that is eventually revealed made me sympathize with Beth, who is easily the least sympathetic character throughout the entire story.

Overall, I’m still trying to decide how I feel about this book. I think it’s an intriguing, beautifully-written read, and worth picking up. It’s just missing the heart of my usual fare and left me a little cold.