Book Review: Reconstructing Amelia

Author: Kimberly McCreight

Publisher: HarperCollins

Date Published: April 2, 2013

Number of Pages: 384 (Hardcover)

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“It wouldn’t have been so bad if I hadn’t been counting the minutes until I could forgive her. But it’s a lot harder to forgive someone who’s not looking to apologize.”

After the apparent suicide of her only child, law associate Kate Baron struggles to come to terms with her loss. After receiving an ominous text that suggests Amelia’s death was not as it seems Kate takes it upon herself to investigate the circumstances of her daughter’s death and the secret life of a child she thought she knew.

This book was first presented to me as Gone Girl meets Gossip Girl – which I thought sounded pretty awesome and though there’s definitely a lot of Gossip Girl in there, I can’t say Reconstructing Amelia is anywhere near shocking or gripping as Gone Girl.

It seems almost unfair to compare any new mystery/thriller release to the juggernaut that is Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl; it really just can’t be matched. In the case of Reconstructing Amelia the only similarity I could see was that both dealt with a mystery surrounding a family member. Reconstructing Amelia is nowhere near as misleading as Gone Girl. Like Gone Girl it too offers many red herrings  – none that lead to any outrageously, “Wow I did not see that coming” moments (maybe I should call them “baby herrings”, which of course I can since this is my blog) but regardless of their size they are very much there in the story. However the seeds and clues that McCreight plants through the story are much easier to piece together. Quite frankly I figured out the ‘whodunit’ part about half way through, or at least I called it. This in one way could be a bit of a bummer if you’re really looking for a shocking ending but I kind of liked it. It’s as if McCreight wanted you to figure it out before she summed it all up. What was important was that both Kate as the protagonist and the reader learned of the incidents and circumstances that led to the tragedy together. The reader is meant to experience Kate’s journey as she does. I like that – it makes the story so much more interactive.

Like Gone Girl, Reconstructing Amelia is very relationship based – though with so many more characters most of the relationships are only shown in snippets, which makes them lose some of their depth. Unlike Gone Girl not a single character in this novel is anywhere near as terrible, awful, vile and amazing as Amy Dunne (nope, not even crazy Zadie).

That being said Reconstructing Amelia definitely has its own vibe and I liked it. McCreight, in the creation of Amelia’s prep school prestige and the “secret” sororities led by the richest, meanest and prettiest girls, sets the stage well for a plot full of twists and turns. I liked the Gossip Girl vibe – the prep school background and the rise to sudden popularity and lightening quick fall of a likeable character. It’s all very dramatic.

But what really makes this book enjoyable is Amelia – as far as characters goes, she has to be one of the most likeable, sincere and genuine characters I’ve come across in recent literature. She is so composed and self-accepting – which is impressive in anyone but in particular a 15-year-old. At first you might think this composure’s not realistic, but based on the voice McCreight gives her, the quiet confidence and strength she continuously demonstrates, it is believable. She’s a kid any parent would be proud to call their own.

It’s interesting how McCreight demonstrates the way Amelia deals with her tormentors, instead of presenting Amelia as unable to deal with her fall from grace and the fear and isolation she’s feeling she stocks her up with unbelievable grit and love. Amelia fights through the pain of a broken heart and the bullying being dealt to her (lead by the borderline psychopathic Zadie – that girl makes Regina George look like Mary Tyler Moore – I say Mary Tyler Moore because she just seems so nice you know?) Despite her world falling apart Amelia doesn’t allow herself to break in order to protect her best friend – even though that same best friend is beyond self-involved, and it’s worth questioning whether she’d have done the same.

There are a lot of relationships – most of which are clearly unhealthy – in this story, each one plays its part perfectly though I have to say I wanted more insight into Kate’s relationship with her nasty co-worker Daniel and less of the emails between her and the tree-hugger guy. I mean I understand the purpose those emails played – the fact that she used him as an idealized version of the father she wished Amelia had but still Daniel was so much more fascinating. Then again the awful characters always are.

What Reconstructing Amelia lacked was suspense. It was all a little too obvious and a little too easy. And perhaps not nearly as salacious as it’s hyped up to be – instead really it’s a sad glimpse into the life of a teenage girl who made a lot of stupid mistakes for love and in doing so paid for it with her life. If you focus less on the actual mystery and more on the relationships it’s easy to enjoy this book.

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