Jennifer Miller's novel The Year of the Gadfly is a lot of things. I wanted to read it because it is an academic novel, set at a private secondary school called Mariana Academy. It is also a mystery and a psychological thriller. There is a may be a murder, and a mysterious video, and a secret society, and at least one love story. It was a fun read, although I'm not sure it was the most memorable one.My brother loved excavating texts, and at times he seemed to want to physically merge with the pages and ink. I once caught him with his nose shoved into a copy of War and Peace. I accused him of jerking off to it, but Justin wasn't amused. Books deserved to be honored and cherished, he said. I replied that a book was inanimate and thus deserved nothing. But if he persisted in believing a lot of spiritual hoopla, at least he should consider the importance of the book in question. In the grand scheme of things, Tolstoy wasn't exactly the Talmud.
The story is from the points of view of three characters-- Lily, Jonah, and Iris -- during two different eras in Mariana history. Iris is the new girl at the Academy. She is a budding journalist with her own slightly troubled past, who wants (along her imaginary friend - the ghost of Edward Murrow) to uncover the secrets from the past that seem to trouble everyone at Mariana. Those secrets involve Jonah, a biology teacher and former student, and Lily, his albino classmate and his late brother's girlfriend. Jonah finds himself in the center of a drama that he thought he had left behind, but which Iris seems to be mucking up again, as she discovers clue after clue to Mariana's past and finds herself involved with the mysterious Prisom's Party.
Miller is at her best when she is describing the humiliations of adolescence. When she steps outside of the psychological drama, and writes scenes of teenagehood, she really finds her voice. She creates remarkably sympathetic characters in Lily, who is the headmaster's daughter, and Iris, who moves into Lily's old room and becomes a sort of reflection of her. Both girls are outside of the norm at their school and experience the type of isolation that is commonplace for many teen girls. Even the popular girls, of course, live through similar viciousness, and I think anyone who has been a teen will feel flashes of recognition in some of the tales that Miller spins. My criticisms are few, but I did find the character Hazel to be slightly unbelievable, as well as some of the twists and turns of the plot, and I thought that book went on a little too long after the big reveal near the end. Overall, I thought that it was a good summer read, with some really bright passages and scenes.
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AND A GIVEAWAY!!!! The publisher has also been kind enough to give away a copy of the book to one US/Canada reader. If you are interested, please leave a comment and an email address to enter.
Title: The Year of the GadflyAuthor: Jennifer Miller
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Genre: Literary Fiction
Where I got it: Received an ARC from the publisher through TLC book tours.
Challenges: None (although it would probably work for the Smooth Criminals Tour)