Top positive review
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Excellent character development, a gripping narrative with twists and turns in every chapter
on October 18, 2017
What I Liked
The character depth. This isn’t your average thriller where the point of the reading experience is to be surprised by one plot twist after the other, and character development falls to the wayside. Part of what makes this novel so engaging is that McCreight takes the time to piece together the lives and psyche of her two primary characters – Amelia and her mom Kate – chapter by chapter. The reader is introduced pretty fully to who Kate is within the first few chapters of the book, but because Amelia is absent almost from the beginning, her character is brought to life in a dribble of information and discoveries that extend throughout the novel. The narrative alternates between chapters set in the present day, in which Kate is constantly exposed to new information about the daughter she thought she new, interspersed with chapters that flashback to the last weeks and days of Amelia’s life and that give the reader a direct glimpse into Amelia’s words and behavior. I didn’t feel that this pretty frequent change in time frames was confusing, but rather that it added to the substance and suspense of the novel.
The many, well-executed plot twists. Just because Kimberly McCreight does an admirable job developing her characters in what is incredibly a debut novel, that doesn’t mean that this thriller lacks for surprising plot twists. On the contrary, once Amelia’s mother starts to doubt whether Amelia in fact committed suicide (not a spoiler since it’s in the plot teaser), the list of potential suspects or contributors to Amelia’s death is long and constantly changing. There is more than one secret in both Kate’s and Amelia’s lives, and things that they both were not fully honest with each other about. The reader, alongside Amelia’s mom Kate, discovers new information about Amelia’s friendships and experiences at school in every chapter, including revelations that exclude some suspects and bring new ones to the fore. The ending of the novel wasn’t the *gasp* kind of twist, but I still wasn’t expecting it, and I think it fit well overall in the narrative. For a relatively long thriller (at nearly 400 pages), Reconstructing Amelia never felt like it was dragging. It was a definite page turner, with something new to keep you going in every single chapter.
The inclusion of primary artifacts. There are not a lot of clear parallels between Maddy Holleran’s story and that told in Reconstructing Amelia. It’s impossible to know why Maddy decided to leave McCreight’s book symbolically behind, but one aspect of Reconstructing Amelia that does connect to Maddy’s experience might be the way in which McCreight uses social media and other primary artifacts as clues throughout her narrative. From blog posts written about high school life by an anonymous blogger, texts sent between Amelia and her friends, emails downloaded from Amelia’s gmail account and cryptic facebook posts, McCreight peppers her novel with Amelia’s own words and those of the students in her high school who have gone from supposed friends to suspects. It’s interesting to think about the way in which Fagan’s retelling of Maddy Holleran’s life follows some of the same research, digging into the same kinds of leftover communications from Maddy’s last months. It’s possible that by leaving Reconstructing Amelia behind, Maddy wanted to lead those seeking answers about the motivations behind her suicide to look deeper into the various ways in which she’d reached out for help (mostly subtly) to others in texts and emails before taking the ultimate decision.
No need for a section on What I Didn’t Like for this title. With excellent character development, a gripping narrative with twists and turns in every chapter, and ties to important social issues like abuse of social media and teen bullying, this debut thriller has it all.