7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
"Tell the truth, no matter how much it hurts.",
This review is from: The Year of the Gadfly (Hardcover)
In "The Year of the Gadfly," Jennifer Miller describes the tribulations of fourteen-year old aspiring journalist Iris Dupont, who has limited social skills, speaks to the ghost of her "spiritual mentor," Edward R. Murrow, and is disconsolate over the loss of her best friend. Iris moves with her family from Boston to Nye, Massachusetts, where she will attend Mariana Academy, a New England prep school. Mariana is a pressure cooker of raging hormones, academic competitiveness, and teenage angst, but there is one bright spot--Iris's brilliant biology teacher, Jonah Kaplan. Mr. Kaplan is an entomologist and an expert on extremophiles--"extreme-loving microbes from which all life originates." Some of these creatures live in boiling water; others can survive after being frozen; and still others thrive under pressure "that would crush a Mack truck." Kaplan is a demanding educator who challenges his students to reject conformity and think creatively. Iris is fascinated with Kaplan who, like her, is an iconoclast with a hidden core of grief.
The author is an astute observer of adolescent misery. She understands the exaggerated emotions of high-school kids who must cope with sexual tension, peer pressure, and inflated parental expectations. If Miller had devoted her narrative to Jonah's unusual teaching style and Iris's transformation from a self-centered rebel to a more broad-minded and tolerant individual, "Gadfly" might have been more conventional but also more readable. Instead, the author gives each character alternating chapters; this turns out to be more distracting than entertaining. In addition, Miller moves back and forth in time, contrasting events in the present with those of 1999, when Jonah, his twin brother, Justin, and their classmates, Hazel and Lily, were all Mariana students at war with their parents and one another. Sadly, a tragic accident will break up this uneasy alliance and have long-lasting effects on the survivors.
Jennifer Miller is an intelligent writer who challenges us to stick with a busy plot that incorporates secret societies, weird initiations, mysterious deaths, "arcane, pseudo-intellectual pranks," long-hidden secrets and grudges, and regrets about the road not taken. Many pages are devoted to Lily, whose former home Iris now occupies. Lily was born with albinism, a rare genetic condition; she is desperate to fit in with her "normal" counterparts. Iris relates to Lily's feelings of isolation and eagerly snoops into her background.
"The Year of the Gadfly" is provocative, satirical, thought-provoking, and occasionally humorous. However, like the aforementioned extremophiles, this novel is too offbeat to strike a chord with the average reader. On the other hand, those who like original and daring works of fiction may be impressed with Miller's ambitious portrayal of young people who go off the rails with disastrous consequences.