Review: Reconstructing Amelia by Kimberly McCreight

Reconstructing Amelia

High-profile lawyer and single-mother Kate Barron is devastated when her fifteen-year-old daughter Amelia jumps to her death off the roof of a private high school. Accused of plagiarizing a paper on her favorite author Virginia Woolfe and leaving behind the word “sorry” scrawled on the building, Amelia’s death looks like an open and closed case of suicide.

Then Kate receives a mysterious text messages, telling her that Amelia didn’t jump. Kate begins slowly piecing together the final few months of her daughter’s life from e-mails, texts and social media postings to try and determine what really happened and if the mysterious text message is true or not.

Kimberly McCreight’s Reconstructing Amelia moves back and forth in time between chapters focusing on the past and Amelia’s point of view and the present, told in third person and focusing on Kate’s investigation. Sprinkled in are a blog that comments on the social order at the school, text conversations between Amelia and her various friends and journal entries from Kate’s early days as a single mother. McCreight presents clues as to what happened to Amelia and why over the course of each point of view, allowing the reader to surmise and see patterns long before certain characters do.

All of this placing of the various pieces of evidence works well to help keep the pages turning during the initial stages of the novel. It also helps gives the reader a different vantage on all the players involved in the story and how each one had an impact on Amelia’s life and death.

Most of it works for the first three-quarters of the novel. However, once the revelations about how and why Amelia died start coming to light, the novel loses a bit of its momentum. One storyline in particular about Amelia’s romantic life seems to be left open and isn’t satisfyingly resolved when the final pages are closed. Given that most of the other questions in the novel are answered, this lack of a full answer stands out a bit like a sore thumb. (It could be that the question is answered and I just missed it due to the sheer number of things happening in the final pages).

I hadn’t heard any of the comparison to Gone Girl before I picked up this book and looking back, I’m glad I had not. It seems like a lot of books these days want to be “the next Gone Girl” and while Deconstructing Amelia does offer readers multiple perspectives from various narrators, that’s really where the comparisons end. Amelia doesn’t rely on an unreliable narrator for its twists and turns. Instead, it relies on a character-driven mystery that unfolds across the various viewpoints and time frames to give the reader the real reason as to what happened to Amelia.

It’s a fascinating first published novel by McCreight. I’m certainly intrigued enough by her first novel to add her to my list of writers to watch.

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