Wednesday, May 9, 2012

How much do I love The Year of the Gadfly by Jennifer Miller?


Let me start by saying that summarizing this book makes it sound like a crazy soap opera. Okay, here it is quick, dirty, and not at all sufficient to judge the book by: daughter whisked away to private school, stumbles onto secret society, gets embroiled in a mystery involving her science teacher, the woman from the local historical society who mysteriously confides in her, and the girl who used to live in the bedroom she is currently living in, who oh by the way was the headmaster's albino daughter.  So while that all sounds a little crazy, it's not. To be sure, there's a lot going on, but Miller juggles it all like a circus performer--you can't stop watching and you have no idea how she does it. And here's one thing that really is crazy: Miller's writing. It's crazy good.

Read the first paragraph of the book (you'll see): 

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. She hummed to the radio and I sat strapped into the passenger seat, like a convict being shuttled between prisons. In the last six months, my Beacon Hill neighborhood had shrunk to the size of a single room: Dr. Patrick's office, with its greasy magazines and hieroglyphic water stains. The vast landscape that opened before us now wasn't any more comforting. The mountainous peaks resembled teeth. The road stretched between them like a black tongue. And here we were, in our small vehicle, speeding toward that awful mouth. 

Good right? Iris Dupont is in some ways your typical 14 year old, drawn like a magnet to hyperbole and her own inner monologue and just as fiercely away from the cloying presence of her parents. But she also has an imaginary friend. He's kind of her only friend. And he's famed journalist Edward R. Murrow. She talks to him. And he talks back. 

It was easy to conjure Murrow. I thought about him for a minute and then there he was, standing on Lily's pink carpet in a Savile Row suit and his signature red suspenders. The glowing eye of his cigarette pierced the dark. It winked at me like it knew something I didn't.
"Iris." Murrow's face hovered in the dark, close enough for me to smell his cigarette breath. "I know you're unhappy about being here. But think of Nye as a challenge. Have you ever known me to rest on my laurels?" 

Even Edward R. Murrow sometimes spoke in cliches, which only proves how ubiquitous and insidious they are.  

I just love Iris. Her dogged pursuit of the truth is the only thing that's keeping her hanging on as loneliness and confusion swirl around her. That pursuit is something in Iris that I really latched on to (and is something that I think a lot of young or not-so-young-anymore girls would, too). At times, Iris is floundering, treading water, just trying to keep her head above the waves. That she solves the mysteries of Mariana Academy in the end is almost beside the point; as a former young girl myself, I understand the chief importance of solving your own mysteries, and Iris does too by the end of Gadfly.  

Don't miss Jennifer Miller's appearance at Water Street Bookstore on Thursday, May 10th at 7pm.

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