On to my review of "The Year of the Gadfly by Jennifer Miller." If you've read it, I'd love to hear your thoughts!
What it’s about: Teenage Iris, a hopefully journalist who has been deeply affected by the loss of her best (and only) friend, has moved to a new town to begin school at Mariana Academy. It seems Mariana is full of secrets, as are most of its students/faculty. Aside from Iris, there is science teacher Mr. Kaplan, a Mariana alum with his own secret, troubled past. Parts of “Gadfly” are told from the perspective of Lily and take place in the late 1990’s, a victim of bullying who was hiding her own secrets. And then there is the resurfacing of Prisom’s Party, a once inactive secret society that sees themselves as moral watchdog vigilantes. The boundaries between bully vs. victim, and right vs. wrong are muddled as Iris tries to unravel the complicated web and blow the cover off the party responsible for a string of disturbing rumors and bullying.
What drew me in: Prestigious prep school, eccentric characters (a “Marvelous Species of sorts) that all have some sort of secret, secret societies, and a plucky main character.
What it reminded me of: “Special Topics in Calamity Physics” by Marisha Pessl, for starters. This is partly because Jennifer Miller, author of “Gadfly” sent me a little message on Goodreads suggesting that I read her book because of my rating of “Special Topics.” The two do have their similarities…dark mystery, prep school and cliques, clever main characters, etc. The main character here, Iris, reminded me more of a combination of Veronica from “The Heathers” and Flavia de Luce from “The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie.” Oh, and Iris’s science teacher, Mr. Kaplan…for me, sort of a Mr. Keating (of Dead Poet’s Society) wannabe. Mr. Keating to students: “Carpe Diem! Seize the Day!” Mr. Kaplan to students: “Embrace extremity!”
What worked for me: The story is told from the point of view of three characters, which I enjoyed, especially when each of their stories began to merge. “Gadfly” shifts back and forth from present time and a late 1990’s timeline, and Miller did a great job slowly revealing the many ways that they intersected. (I also admit to feeling a bit old when I realized that the “past” storyline was around the time I was actually in high school.) Miller pretty much nailed the unique affects the loss of a (close) peer has on a teen-ager, and certainly captured the teen-age angst. The story shows what we all know from experience: What happens to you in high school follows you long after you graduate.
What didn’t work for me: I found myself wondering as I read if this was actually YA Fiction (which it is not), and there were just a few scenes that seemed a bit…gratuitous. Not really a big deal, but they irked me in relation to Iris only being 14, and because they seemed totally unnecessary to the plot. The resolution was wrapped up a bit too “neatly” for the dark tone of the rest of the novel.
I gave this one a 3 star rating on Goodreads.