Wednesday, November 14, 2012
A Wrinkle in the Formula
I first heard about this book when the author, Jennifer Miller, sent me a message on GoodReads saying that since I had given Special Topics in Calamity Physics by Marisha Pessl a 5 star rating, I would like her book too. I was a little leery, thinking that Miller may have self-published her book, but I checked out the reviews on Amazon, and found that people liked The Year of the Gadfly, and that they also compared it to Special Topics.
As you will recall from my discussion of The Starboard Sea by Amber Dermont a couple of months ago, there are certain books that follow a formula that I like. This formula involves a student starting at a new school, identifying a group of students who he or she admires, and then once the student is finally accepted by the group, he or she learns that they are keeping a secret which the student would be better off not knowing. When I discussed The Starboard Sea, I left out one other important element - there should be a teacher, with some degree of knowledge about the secret, and some involvement with the group. Books using this formula are Special Topics, The Secret History by Donna Tartt, and The Hidden by Tobias Hill. Gadfly is also a formula book, with the wrinkle that the story takes place partially in 2000, and partially in 2012.
In the part of Gadfly set in 2000, the story mostly involves Jonah and Justin, who are twin brothers attending Mariana, Hazel, who is a year older, and Lily, who is dating Justin. In 2012, Jonah has returned as a teacher at Mariana, Hazel has a job in town, and Iris is attending the school, while living in Lily's old house. In terms of the formula, there are cliques and secrets in both 2000 and 2012, but the outsider isn't really admitted to the clique in either year. There is a teacher, Jonah, involved in the 2012 story, but not in 2000. The secret in both years involves the newcomer's admission to the group, and not a separate secret that the new person finds out.
Gadfly is a complicated story, where the reader really never knows who to trust. Iris being so young and talking to Murrow gave the story a Harriett the Spy feel which made it seem unsophisticated at first. I think that Miller has Iris talk to Murrow so that the reader questions whether Iris is a reliable narrator, to add to the confusion. In the end, everything ties together nicely, without feeling contrived.
In my library, Gadfly was in the mystery section, which I think is a little strange. It isn't really a mystery - it is more like Iris is investigating what there is to investigate. I guess that the identity of the people in Prisom's Party is a mystery, but that's not really essential to the story. I would consider this book to be good prep school fiction, but not a mystery.
Next up: Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell
Still Listening to: Mrs. Kimble by Jennifer Haigh