Friday, November 13, 2009

jaclyn moriarty, dreaming of amelia

I often like to think that there will be one glorious time in my life when I have won the Dublin IMPAC Literary award (around $170,000), the Pulitzer Prize for Non-Fiction ($10,000 and a shiny gold medal), and the Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award for children’s writing ($800,000). At that point, I can realise my dreams of a) becoming a full-time writer and b) buying a life-size Wall-E robot. Anyway, to that end—and because I enjoy it—I try to read a lot of different genres. It also means that at work I can bluff my way through questions in every section of the store, though there are some (ie philosophy, theology, personal development) in which I remain stupid.

I plan on winning the Lindgren prize with a series of powerful books for young adults that tackle all the emotions and hardship of high school and life on the cusp of adulthood. I’m not quite sure how this will happen, as despite graduating only ten years ago I’ve pretty much forgotten everything that happened back then apart from having crushes on everything that moved and working in the school canteen so I could stuff my face full of candy for free. Still, readings books by authors like Jaclyn Moriarty are a good help in reminding me what the hell went on during those six long years.

Since her first book, 2000’s Feeling Sorry for Celia, Moriarty has been writing books set near Sydney and centred around two high schools, public school Brookfield (hooligans! ruffians!) and co-ed private school Ashbury (snobs! nouveau riche!) She has also written I Have a Bed Made of Buttermilk Pancakes for adults, and rewrote that for younger readers as The Spellbook of Listen Taylor, which I have not read as I had demolished Buttermilk shortly before. Her characters often overlap, mostly with best pals Emily, Cassie and Lydia, who have starred in Finding Cassie Crazy, had bit parts in The Betrayal of Bindy Mackenzie (otherwise known to me as The Betrayal of Fiona, because the character of Bindy was far too annoying to want to read about for 300 pages), and star again in Dreaming of Amelia. Now the three are in year twelve, and like the other books about these schools, the entire novel is written through notes, blog entries, letters, committee meeting notes, and English essays on gothic fiction. For this year has seen the arrival of two scholarship students, Amelia and Riley, who are so new and enticing and gothic-swoon-worthy that they the whole class goes aflutter. Along with these students, year twelve also sees the arrival of a ghost in the classrooms.

...or does it (etc)?

Excitable puppy-like Emily is convinced there is a ghost haunting the school. Lydia finds herself abandoned by her parents during the hardest year of her life as they leave for Tuscany to reinvigorate their marriage. Fellow student Toby becomes obsessed with black holes and the arrival of Irish convicts in ye olde Sydney. Amelia and Riley slowly come out of the shadows to reveal themselves, but only what they want everyone—and each other—to see. To be quite honest, the whole thing drags on far too long. This book is about twice as long as Feeling Sorry for Celia, which is a fantastic book and one I’ve read a couple of times. I won’t be reading Amelia again and feel it could have been condensed greatly, despite the fact we never even hear from Cassie, who stays quietly in the corner apparently having no problems at all. Switching chapters between characters is something I usually enjoy, but when something exciting is happening and you are suddenly stopped and changed to another, duller character, I found it much more frustrating than usual.

Jaclyn Moriarty has a great sense of humour and I found myself smiling like a goof quite often. The characters are all appealing, if samey at times. Dramatic Emily and her overuse of exclamation marks is enjoyable in small doses, but when it carries over to other, unrelated characters it feels quite fake. Constance Milligan, elderly busybody and Associate Chair of the Ashbury Alumni Association, adopts the same hysterical squealings, as does the ghost in Lydia’s English essay.

As the year flies by, so to do the student’s essays (surely so off-topic, meandering and bizarre that they would all fail?) and the ghost does stranger and more mystifying things. Unlike Moriarty’s past books, which all end on enjoyable bad guy comeuppance, this tale requires a leap of faith that I just wasn’t willing to take. This, regarding the parallel tale of an Irish convict named Tom, told through Toby’s English essay, is interesting stuff but felt to me quite artificial and put there only to show Moriarty’s knowledge of convict history in the neighbourhood these books are set in.

It wasn’t a horrible book by any means, and still a lot of fun, but it was too long. Don’t let this review put you off Jaclyn Moriarty as an author—Feeling Sorry for Celia and Finding Cassie Crazy are fantastic books, worthy of rereading and getting you into the heart of high school, albeit a sometimes sugar-coated version regarding how students treat each other. I’ll still be reading whatever she puts out next—and I’ll be hoping to see cameo appearances from all these characters again, happy in their post-HSC futures. And hopefully with more sex.

1 comment:

  1. I personally LOVE a book from the reluctant young readers range. I have read FAR, FAR too many Francesca Lia Block books. Who is so whimsical and sugar-sweet and lame, that I vomited fairy floss and it tasted so good coming back up as going down, that I swallowed it again.


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