From the Amazon.com promotional blurb:
"In Reconstructing Amelia, the stunning debut novel from Kimberly McCreight, Kate's in the middle of the biggest meeting of her career when she gets the telephone call from Grace Hall, her daughter’s exclusive private school in Park Slope, Brooklyn. Amelia has been suspended, effective immediately, and Kate must come get her daughter—now. But Kate’s stress over leaving work quickly turns to panic when she arrives at the school and finds it surrounded by police officers, fire trucks, and an ambulance. By then it’s already too late for Amelia. And for Kate.
An academic overachiever despondent over getting caught cheating has jumped to her death. At least that’s the story Grace Hall tells Kate. And clouded as she is by her guilt and grief, it is the one she forces herself to believe. Until she gets an anonymous text: She didn’t jump."Overview:
Superficially, at least, Reconstructing Amelia shares much in common with Gillian Flynn's Girl Gone: As the book opens, something bad has happened to a female protagonist who leads a complicated life. Another protagonist attempts to discover what happened.
The narration involves two points of view: that of the protagonist who knows the whole story, and that of the protagonist who doesn't. Eventually this knowledge gap is narrowed. There is a surprise ending.
There was a final sentence in the promotional blurb that I omitted above: "Reconstructing Amelia is about secret first loves, old friendships, and an all-girls club steeped in tradition. But, most of all, it’s the story of how far a mother will go to vindicate the memory of a daughter whose life she couldn’t save."
As the above would suggest, the publisher of Reconstructing Amelia seems to have targeted the book at a female audience; but this is by no means "chick lit". I'm a very politically incorrect, unapologetically heterosexual 45-year-old male, and I found this book to be a compulsive page-turner. While the viewpoint is overwhelmingly female, the action is also unrelenting. Fans of Joseph Finder and Nelson DeMille will enjoy this book.
Narration: About 45% of the story is told from the flashback perspective of Amelia, the 15-year-old suicide victim who is dead in the opening chapter.
I find that by my age, stories with adolescent protagonists can seldom grip me: Either I'm just not able to take that world seriously anymore--or the writing of such books is obviously slanted toward a young adult audience.
Not so here. McCreight lends a deadly realism to the the hidden world of digital-age private high school students. Although this story is set in an exclusive Manhattan private school in the present time, the conflicts involving cliques, crushes, and adolescent awkwardness are universal. McCreight uses these childhood slings and arrows to lay the groundwork for the book's darkest moments and more outlandish plot elements.
Plot: As I said, Reconstructing Amelia is a fast-moving novel. There were only one or two plot turns that stretched my credibility. (And these were mostly forgivable in the big scheme of things.)
The plot is also more complex than that of Girl Gone (to which so many reviewers have compared it). At least one of the book's final outcomes is predictable by the time the reader has completed 75% of the novel. But several others are almost impossible to guess until the very end.
Characters: The book's two main protagonists (Kate Baron and her daughter Amelia) are multifaceted characters who are simultaneously flawed and sympathetic. The villains (and there are many) are also multidimensional. The bad people in this book aren't mindlessly bad; they are driven by authentic human desires--love, jealousy, and (since so much of Reconstructing Amelia is about adolescents) the desire to fit in.
Female readers often complain that male authors stereotype female characters. Female novelists, likewise, have a tendency to stereotype male characters along certain lines.
McCreight mostly avoids the worst of these. This book is thankfully free of the hackneyed male-hero-as-tall-dark-and-handsome-soap-opera-hunk.
(Note: My intention here is not to overplay the gender aspects of this book--but rather to encourage potentially skeptical male readers to give it a try.)
Ideas: Readers will be divided regarding whether or not Reconstructing Amelia is a simple thriller, or a book that is intended to Say Something Significant about Teenage Bullying. I think it's mostly just a thriller; but there's nothing wrong with that.
Overall rating: 4/5 stars: Reconstructing Amelia is commercial fiction, but of the more intelligent variety. This book will keep you turning the pages until the end.