18 April 2013

Review: Reconstructing Amelia by Kimberly McCreight

In an odd coincidence or as a sign of a new trend, this is the second book I read in a week that starts out with a teen being expelled from private school. In both cases, the girls were good students, lived in a single-parent household with their hardworking moms, and faced a problem they felt they couldn't share.

That's pretty much where the similarities between Tomorrow There Will Be Apricots (reviewed on Monday) and Reconstructing Amelia by Kimberly McCreight end. The first is a sweet food-filled story of found families and building a support network; the second is much darker.

When Kate, a high-powered lawyer, gets the call telling her she must come to Grace Hall and pick up her daughter because she's been expelled, she is sure there has been some mistake. When she arrives on campus, she learns to her horror that Amelia has jumped off the roof of the building to her death. Just as Kate is trying to rebuild her life in the aftermath of the tragedy, she gets an anonymous text message telling her that Amelia didn't commit suicide.

Reconstructing Amelia is told from multiple viewpoints and via a variety of media: text messages, Facebook, phone calls, and notes as well as first- and third-person narration. The mystery is what exactly happened to Amelia, who always seemed so happy and stable. As Kate investigates her daughter's life, she learns unpleasant things about teenage girls and discovers some surprising things about herself.

Kimberly McCreight's debut novel is well-plotted and carefully builds up the tension. I liked the way we get to know Amelia through her own voice: She, unaware of her fate, tells us about her life with all the innocence and angst of a young teen; we, however, know the eventual outcome but not the events that led up to it, which can make it painful to read her tale. Alternating with Amelia's sections, the novel follows Kate and the police as they try to piece together the facts to understand just how the teen came to her death. The juxtaposition of these two storytelling techniques works very well.

On the other hand, McCreight telegraphed a few of the clues so strongly that at least some of mystery of what happened to Amelia was easy to figure out. There were still a couple of details that were not obvious, but the big reveal factor fell flat for me. I am totally in the minority here, and keep in mind that I wasn't wowed by Gone Girl either.

The good news is that the pacing of Reconstructing Amelia is nicely done, and the varied ways in which McCreight tells the story keeps the reader fully invested. Don't miss this novel, just don't expect it to blow your socks off.

I listened to the unabridged audiobook edition (Harper Audio, 12 hr, 15 min) read by Khristine Hvam. Hvam had the difficult task of portraying teens, adults, boys, and men and a broad range of emotions. She did an amazing job keeping consistent characterizations and making each voice seem believable. Although the novel may not make my top ten list, the audio production is excellent, and I highly recommend it.

Buy Reconstructing Amelia at an Indie or at bookstore near you. This link leads to an affiliate program.
HarperCollins / Harper, 2013
ISBN-13: 9780062225436
Rating: C+ (print) A- (audio)

Source: Review - audio (see review policy)
Copyright © cbl for Beth Fish Reads, all rights reserved (see review policy).

16 comments:

rhapsodyinbooks 4/18/13, 6:29 AM  

I am pretty much done with boarding school stories, so I'm glad to hear you weren't knocked out by this, since that means I wouldn't be either!

Sandy Nawrot 4/18/13, 7:18 AM  

I'm sure it will break my heart because I have a teenage daughter but I will read it. I got it at SIBA, and it was a hot topic.

Anita 4/18/13, 8:12 AM  

I'm very interested in this one. I bought it in e book and ill be reading it with some others in June.
Thanks for you review.

bermudaonion 4/18/13, 9:22 AM  

I just got the audio of this and can't wait to listen to it!

Jenn's Bookshelves 4/18/13, 9:38 AM  

I'm one of those that loved this one and yes, I figured out what really transpired quite early. Going in, though, I didn't see this novel as a mystery, but instead an examination of the devastating amount of bullying that goes on in school and the role social media plays in this.

Daryl 4/18/13, 10:46 AM  

i didnt read Gone Girl but i did read several reviews and decided i wasnt interested ... this hits me the same way .. thanks!

Michele 4/18/13, 12:07 PM  

I can't help but be curious whether an audio version would add or subtract from the 'pow' factor. I read it in dead-tree format and therefore really enjoyed the way text msgs, FB entries, etc and so on were woven into the story. Not sure how that would translate to audio.

I wasn't all that surprised with the 'mystery' portion either, but loved the ride it took to get there.

Kate Midnight Book Girl 4/18/13, 12:17 PM  

You had me the second you mentioned the narrator was Khristine Hvam! I love her narration style, and she's not let me down so far (yes, I have downloaded Audible books solely because she narrates them). This definitely sounds like a good book to take a chance on!

Zibilee 4/18/13, 3:40 PM  

I think I have this one, and am excited because I was blown away by Gone Girl. I usually figure out the mystery before it is revealed, but this one sounds like it's well plotted and really well characterized. Thanks for your review today! You've really got me interested in it!!

Laura Fabiani 4/18/13, 3:55 PM  

I'm taking note of this narrator. I love hearing audio books that have great narrators and she is new to me.

(Diane) Bibliophile By the Sea 4/18/13, 7:15 PM  

There should be an arc in the mail from Amazon for me soon for this one. I like school setting novels -- never thought about the audio version.

Amy @ My Friend Amy 4/18/13, 7:57 PM  

haha I wondered yesterday if this is the book you meant. I did love this one, but not for the mystery. I was really uncomfortable with comparisons to Gone Girl as well as I feel they are actually quite different.

Sorry to hear you didn't love it, but I'm glad you didn't hate :)

(Diane) bookchickdi 4/19/13, 7:28 AM  

I have this book as well and have not yet read it. I had issues with Gone Girl too, but now am intrigued even more by this one.

Charlie (The Worm Hole) 4/19/13, 10:20 AM  

It sounds interesting, though I'd wonder about the predicting factors you mentioned. First I thought that if the rest takes time, may knowing some of it quickly is okay, but it doesn't sound as though that's the case.

kay - Infinite Shelf 4/19/13, 4:51 PM  

Ah! Guessing the ending too early takes away part of my enjoyment, too. I wasn't much surprised with Gone Girl (though I really liked the book). I'm still looking forward to reading this one though, and my copy just arrived this week!

Julie P. 4/25/13, 9:02 PM  

I'm about halfway through this one right now and enjoying it!

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