Saturday, June 16, 2012

In which I admit that (yet again) I was wrong

I'd like to think it doesn't happen often but, when appropriate, I have no problem admitting that I was wrong. I'm growing convinced that if I write anything proclaiming a sweeping rule such as, "I don't like short stories" or "I have no interest in reading those acclaimed books" then I'm bound to find the exception to the rule within a matter of weeks. And so here goes: a few weeks ago, I shared my thought about the predictably and sameness of books that took place in prep schools and ivy leagues. And, of course, I have now found the exception that has forced me to admit, once again: I was wrong. 

The Year of the Gadfly by Jennifer Miller is difficult to categorize but it definitely takes place in a prestigious prep school and involves lessons learned about friendship and life, so I suppose you could call it a prep school coming of age novel. Unlike so many other books that might be considered its contemporaries, though, this book is not about ennui and disaffection. It is about a passion for getting to truth. It is about the resilience of humans (often illustrated by entomological comparisons). It is about the struggle to be true to yourself and the daunting odds that can be set against you in that struggle. And yet, it's also a page-turning tale of intrigue.

The book alternates between the viewpoints of three characters: Iris Dupont, a 14-year-old whose parents have recently located to Nye out of growing concern for Iris's metal health in the aftermath of her best friend's suicide and her subsequent friendship with an imaginary Edward R. Murrow; Jonah Kaplan, her science teacher who is himself an alumnus of the school and whose efforts to distance himself from the past have brought him squarely back to its epicenter; and Lily Morgan, the socially adrift daughter of the former headmaster, and whose narrative is kept in 1999. This book is cleverly constructed, well-written, and highly engaging. I enjoyed Iris's frequent, and vocal, disdain for cliches. On that ground alone, I think that Iris would approve of this book that breaks the stereotypes I had about prep school coming-of-age novels.  

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