Review: Reconstructing Amelia by Kimberly McCreight

ReconstructingVerdict:

Kimberly McCreight’s debut novel shares the haunts of Gone Girl and imposes questions on society making it one of the best thrillers to read in 2013.

‘Reconstructing Amelia’ begins with workaholic mother, Kate Baron, hearing that her nerdy daughter Amelia has been suspended from Grace Hall for cheating. When Kate arrives late to the school, the importance of Amelia’s copied To the Lighthouse paper becomes insignificant with the news that her daughter has committed suicide.

Or has she? Unable to escape from her grief Kate returns back to her work but only back to her life when she receives a blocked text stating: Amelia Didn’t Jump. This anonymous message works as a catalyst for Kate to reconstruct the truths behind her dead daughter and discover what happened on the rooftops of Grace Hall.

Having this plot as a basis -and the gorgeous poetic cover to match – had me hooked in reading this novel. Also, being a teenager myself, I was excited to read my favourite genre from the perspective of someone my own age.

Alternating chapters of the novel were told from the voices of both Kate and Amelia. It worked well that in Kate’s chapters she would be unravelling another piece of information about Amelia’s secret life, and we would have just heard that detail from Amelia’s point of view in the previous chapter. You would expect that these repetitions of stories would become boring and not work in stimulation the imagination, however in this case it did and helped everything to fit into place.

The book was well constructed with whose eyes we witnessed the plot from at the beginning. Like Kate, at the start we are kept in the dark about the characteristics of Amelia so we knew things were wrong but not to what extent.

The tenses used were a bit peculiar. Kate’s perspective was fair enough third person, although first person was deployed for Amelia. Because of this, I couldn’t help but hope that Amelia would be alive at the end as she had possibly been hiding from the Maggies. Using texts and Facebook messages within the book added to a fun account and gave it a more interactive flavour.

The novel really did keep me guessing until the final moment. Frequently I would feel arrogant that I had worked out all the answers, thinking that anyone would have spotted who the murderer was by now and I was getting irritated at Kate for not realising who she should be blaming. Then precisely the chapter beginning 36 pages before the end, it turned out I was wrong all along. McCreight was toying with me from the start. She made it feel as though I had separately worked out the killer was. She kept Kate from meeting this person to only fuel this idea. I was left the fool in the end.

Most of the characters in the whole book were disgusting creatures. Some of the things that both the teenagers and the adults would come out with were so extreme that I can’t imagine that anyone would dare be equally so vile in the real word. Zadie is the first lady that comes to mind. It was similarly as shocking how the teenagers would treat Kate after she had lost her daughter. No one shed any sympathy towards her and instead they would be irritated with her for wasting their time. Well, I suppose Ian was the only one who did give her a minute, but his answer made him as bad as the rest. Also the school was an absolute joke. How the teachers could act so uncaring was beyond me and the worst of them all was the secretary, Mrs Pearl.

It’s common nature for when you read a book to want the baddies to be severely punished in the end. That was why I was severely angry that the author behind gRaCeFULLY (or should I call it Gossip Girl?) didn’t gain much recognition in the end.

In lots of novels you have characters that are very weak. That is why I embraced Kate and her believable anger towards those around her and her inability to control her emotions. It was liberating to hear the conversation between Kate and her mum on the phone. Amelia was a character who I related with from the start and her doomed future was tragic. Hearing from Amelia’s side was a great advantage in giving an accurate account of the events and sometimes I would become so lost into what she was saying that I would forget that this was McCreight and not a real teenager.

Despite all the red herrings in the novel, the information acquired from these plot twists were still relevant. It was as though all of Kate’s back history and emotions were flung into the first ten pages of the book so the rest of the novel could give way to the chase. Although I see little detail as a good thing, I was pretty disappointed that the motives behind Amelia’s love interest weren’t fleshed out. A big part to play in Amelia’s last few days was due to this person.

There were some pretty unrealistic qualities in the book that were over the top. How the school never bothered about Amelia’s case, how the school board were allow students to have secret clubs and how Lew and Kate went about their investigation. It summed up how all the power was in the wrong hands.

The great insight into a fragile mother and daughter relationship made this book even more than just a “fun thriller”. Although Amelia’s narrative tried to tell us otherwise, I believe that a large part of the blame has to be with Kate. She shouldn’t have been so wrapped up in her work to not have spent time listening to her daughter.

‘Reconstructing Amelia’ has used all the best ingredients to make the perfect thriller and I hope there are more books similar to this in the future.

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Review: Close My Eyes by Sophie McKenzie

Close My EyesVerdict:

Sophie McKenzie is a name that tends to be associated with young adult fiction. As a teenager myself I am fully aware of her successful Girl, Missing, Blood Ties and The Medusa Project series’, despite the shameful fact that I have not read one of them before.

Now McKenzie has turned a wandering eye to the world of the unknown, a la, adults for her latest novel, Close My Eyes. With a premise of a ‘gripping thriller’ we begin with the moody zombie like character of Gen, a thirties something year old who has not been able to awaken (I’m suspecting that is where the cliqued title springs its name) from a slumber of depression after her stillborn daughter, Beth, died eight years ago. It seems that Gen is going to be persuaded by her husband Art, who believes the pair should begin another batch of IVF treatment. That is until a women turns up at their doorstep claiming that Beth may not be as dead as Gen thought she was.

Despite having quite a riveting unique sounding plot which begs the question, how is it possible for someone to steal a baby from inside you? Damn you private clinics, I should have gone to the NHS! Close My Eyes lacks any antidotes of a thriller until we reach the three figure page mark.

Gen is someone who you can understand why she is so depressed, but her whiny nature makes it pretty difficult for you to care about her as at times she is the epitome of dull and irrational. Then we have the other people in Gen’s life who don’t seem to gain any round characterisation and so they are just there to ease Gen along. Thus, it’s just us and jolly Gen for the majority of the novel.

Eventually though the pace does boost up with the meeting of a dashing handsome Irishman who seems to be the only person who genuinely cares about Gen, despite only knowing her for five minutes. If you are prepared to enter the mind of a gloomy woman and mope around with her for 100 pages then your reward will be a batch of nifty action.

Although the book makes reference to how Gen’s psychological state is being questioned, it’s clear there is something rather fishy going on or there wouldn’t exactly be any point to be book. We know that Gen is right to question the past, but the time it takes her to work out what she has to do, she could have already uncovered the truth.

Not to give up any spoilers from the book, but let’s just say that because there aren’t a lot of characters in total, once you begin scoring them off one by one it becomes clear who the deceiving person will be (that is, if there is a deceiving person at all).

Close My Eyes is a book for the woman who wants an insight into a ‘what if these things could happen to me’ type plot. It’s not a Gillian Flynn, Peter May or a Henning Mankell. There are plenty of authors out there who have the power to really establish their work as a ‘gripping thriller,’ unfortunately Close My Eyes is not one of them. McKenzie should step away from entering her own adult mind and instead trace back to her children’s roots as this attempt has evidently proven young adult fiction is her baby.