Book Review: Reconstructing Amelia
Litigation lawyer and harried single mother Kate Baron is stunned when her daughter’s exclusive private school in Park Slope, Brooklyn, calls with disturbing news: her intelligent, high-achieving fifteen-year-old daughter, Amelia, has been caught cheating. Kate can’t believe that Amelia, an ambitious, levelheaded girl who’s never been in trouble would do something like that. But by the time she arrives at Grace Hall, Kate’s faced with far more devastating news. Amelia is dead. Sifting through Amelia’s emails, text messages, social media postings, and cell phone logs, Kate is determined to learn the heartbreaking truth about why Amelia was on Grace Hall’s roof that day-and why she died.Told in alternating voices, Reconstructing Amelia is a story of secrets and lies, of love and betrayal, of trusted friends and vicious bullies. It’s about how well a parent ever really knows a child and how far one mother will go to vindicate the memory of a daughter whose life she could not save.
ashley | I wanted to read Reconstructing Amelia by Kimberley McCreight as soon as I saw the cover. The image just seemed so haunting, so moving, and I loved the title. For some reason it really spoke to me. If the book cover could give me that reaction, I had to know if the book itself would be just as bold.
Like a Gossip Girl episode, Reconstructing Amelia starts off with a post from an unidentified blogger, who is the overseeing high school know it all, gathering summer gossip and the what’s happening leading into a new school year. Then we’re thrown into the middle of a text conversation between Amelia and a friend until finally, an actual chapter from the point of view of Amelia’s mother Kate is laid out in front of us. And I love this. I love that there are strong YA tones and then also a more mature adult point of view both telling the story.
There’s a large emphasis on social media, which tends to be a younger generational thing and often bothers me when it creeps up in literature, but all of that is quickly balanced out with a parental influence that speaks a bit more to my generation (I’m dating myself here, I know). I can’t tell who this was written for; is it a YA book, is it something for an older group? It’s a beautiful combination of different categories and different insights into the lives of key people. Reconstructing Amelia is off to a great start.
McCreight does a great job of reminding me what high school was like, right down to the pompous best friend who takes her own insecurities out on Amelia. Though we never had secret clubs like the Magpies, there were enough cliques that I can recall – that anyone can recall, no doubt – to bring me right back to those years, which helps make it easier to put myself in Amelia’s shoes and understand why this good girl went astray and made some of the choices she did.
But this book is not what I expected, not at all. Things suddenly take a very dark and disturbing turn and as we follow Kate through Amelia’s emails and text messages and her story starts to form, you start to see exactly how cruel other people can be and how every person has their own personal breaking point. This kind of serves as one big PSA announcement that deals with content that I take very seriously and the way it’s all layered into a story, emphasizing how even the smallest of bystanders have an impact on situations and can make a difference in an outcome is incredibly well done.
As I said before, the story is written from different points of view and I love this. I love how you’ll read through the same situation and see how differently Amelia and her mother Kate interpreted the same events and how easily things can be misconstrued and misunderstood.
One big problem I had with all of this, though, is that I feel like if this was an active police investigation, there is no way Lieutenant Thompson would allow Kate to follow him around and take the lead on the investigation. Granted, she didn’t always have his permission for what she was doing, but she was very actively involved in the investigation, had the texts and emails in her own possession and went with Thompson on every interview. I just don’t think that would have happened. But that’s a liberty a lot of crime entertainment takes, and if that was my only issue with the entire book then I can’t complain.
It just feels like so much time went into developing each individual character and piecing them into the lives of everyone else. And while it wasn’t too hard to discover Kate’s big secret before the book reveals it, the mystery surrounding Amelia, which is really what you’re trying to reconstruct here, isn’t quite as clear and the way Kate’s secret complements the overall story is perfect. This is such a strong, well thought out book, I’m really glad I read it.