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Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Dreaming of Amelia by Jaclyn Moriarty

Amelia and Riley have transferred to Ashbury for their final year of school, and everyone is completely obsessed with them. Glamorous, talented and totally devoted to one another, the two of them drift through school in their own world. But there's more to the couple than meets the eye - they have secrets. And some of them are dangerous to share. As Riley starts to lose his grip on Amelia, the repercussions affect everyone around them. It is a spellbinding story about ghosts, secrets, madness, passion, locked doors, femme fatales, and that terrifying moment in the final year of high school when you realise that the future's coming to get you.

Written in alternating POVs in the form of letters, blog entries, and academic assays, Jaclyn Moriarty once again shows her unique form and style.  I had thought I had this English thing down pretty good, but after reading Moriarty, I'm humbled once again. An excerpt: 

They both had wet hair, only hers was brushed back into a long
ponytail. From behind, I could see that the ponytail was leaking:
Thin watershadows formed on her school shirt.
As I watched, he rubbed his hands over his head. He was friendly
and rough with his head, as if it were a dog. Now his hair stood up in
And then something happened.
She reached a hand toward him and he reached his hand toward
her, but his eyes found the eyes of strangers in the room. Their hands
almost touched but did not.
I saw cobwebs in the slender, empty space between those hands.

Cobwebs trailing between the lover's hands. *sigh* If only I could come up with something so poetic. Mind you, this is just an excerpt. The whole book has lines like that - enough to make you stop momentarily every few pages and re-read just to let the words sink in. This is writing to admire and learn from.
Now one of the reasons why I liked the characters in DOA so much is that they felt familiar to me. Emily, Lyd, Seb and a few others were in Moriarty's other book, The Year of Secret Assignments, so I kind of felt like I was visiting old friends. Dear, and wonderful old friends. I particularly love Emily - her colorful wit, her inability to spell correctly, and her unabashed looniness as she tries to convince everyone around her that Ashbury High has a ghost (and indeed it does). She's the kind of girl that I wish I'd had as a best friend - loyal, kind and oozing quirkiness like a melted Toblerone. My favorite scene with Emily has her writing up posts on her blog while eating not one, not two, but three pieces of chocolate cake! And then later we find out that she had two more pieces before she sat down to type! Yep, my kind of girl. But chocolate aside, the other characters are just as memorable. Lyd, Toby, and of course the stars of our show, Amelia and Riley, who aren't what you think they are, but then turn out to be more than who you think they are. One of the fallbacks to doing multiple POVs is re-writing scenes from a different perspective with each character. It can get tedious awful fast going through the same scene more than once, but with DOA I didn't see this problem at all. In fact, Emily's unreliability makes you stop and say, 'hey wait a minute, gf. I know you have everyone's best interests at heart here, but you must have misunderstood something.' And then you keep reading, just because you know Lyd is going to have a different take on it and then you can find out the real truth.  

Now in amongst all this character development is an actual story - who knew? Just kidding. Seriously though, the ghost story in this story is intriguing more than scary. Kind of like when you were a kid and you had those slumber party where you tried to scare everyone but you knew it was all just fun and games. That's the case with DOA, but then somewhere around the middle of the book you realize that the fun has a purpose (I'll leave you to read and figure out for yourself what I mean) and so you keep reading, becoming more and more intrigued with what's going on with these characters, and then in the end - BAMMO! The real ghosts show up. Ok, so I hope that was enough of a teaser to get you interested without saying too much. Really, it's pretty amazing how Moriarty manages to tie up all the threads of this book into one coherent plot. It kind of reminds me of Holes in a way (see review here), only more teenagery, more Australian (obviously) and of course, more gothic. 

After this glowing review, you're probably wondering if I found anything wrong with the book, and the answer is, well, not really. But at the same time, I don't feel compelled to give DOA a score of 5, and I blame that on myself more than on Moriarty. I've only read one other epistolary type novel (and that was also by Moriarty) in the past ten years, and I think if I had been more familiar with the format then I would have appreciated it more. Also, this is really a book where you need to devote yourself to finding a nice quiet spot (preferably on a dark and stormy night) and settle in for a good two hours to really get into it. I began it while cooking dinner in the middle of a noisy household and had to put it down several times. My bad. The end result was that I didn't know what was going on in the beginning. Moriarty kept handing me all these plot threads and saying, 'here, hold onto this, you'll see why it's important later'. And I, the busy reader, kept trying to weave them together how I thought they should fit, and I dropped a few, and I kept picking them back up, turning them over, and wondering why I was holding onto them. If I had just had a little more patience, I would have seen the pattern Moriarty was weaving before I finally did and I would have appreciated her method more. Now you might be saying to yourself, 'but Angie, it's the author's job to suck you into the story and keep everything straight, not yours.' And in most cases you would be right, but when I finished DOA and looked back at how the story was written, I can't really say that there was a better way to do it. I know that I would have enjoyed the story more if I had relaxed into it. Some books require a certain mindset before you go into them and DOA just happens to be one of them. So if you plan to read DOA, get yourself a cup of tea and find a quiet spot. Then settle in and let all of the different threads sit in your hands for awhile - don't do anything with them! When you see it all come together at the end you'll be glad you didn't waste your time getting exasperated by trying to figure out where all of this was leading and then you can lean back and say 'ahhhh brilliant!' You only get to experience a book for the first time once and after that you can re-read to savor those great lines, but it's not the same. So heed my advice, get the book, make the tea, and prepare to be wowed.  

Final score: 4 stars.

P.S. While I highly recommend DOA, I'd first suggest that you read The Year of Secret Assignments in order to familiarize yourself Moriarty's style and the characters.

P.S.S. As a little reminder, if you're interested in reading The Year of Secret Assignments, we're doing a little book chain. Click here for details.   

P.S.S.S.  Check out the sidebar for details about my first contest!! Deadline is coming up fast so get your entries in.


Anonymous said...

Hey Angie,

I think you're right about the models being the same for those two covers. I think the actual picture of the girl is the same, just moved around a bit. That's actually quite funny. I hope they got a discount on the art. I wonder if they knew before the books came out?

Anyway, I think the ideas about yoru cover are great (having got to read the entire ms and all). I agree with you on not showing actual faces. There have been a number of books I've read where the picture just didn't match my version of the character.

One solution is to do what a lot of the covers you've shown do. Just show a profile or the back of a head, you get the idea. One of my favorite examples of this are the covers for Megan Whalen Turner's "Thief" series. Check them out. They're BEAUTIFUL.

Angie said...

One can only wonder if they knew. Or write to the author and ask - although that would be kind of strange to bring up in conversation. I've seen a number of books too where the model on the cover didn't match what I thought the girl should look like either - and I do like your suggestion of just doing a back or side of the head shot.

The Thief covers are really intriguing. I especially like the gold filigree around the titles.

Joann Swanson said...

Another fantastic review! I will definitely be picking this one up. Ghosts? Oh yeah, that's the stuff!

Nomes said...

you reviewed this so well.

i agree about having to just go along for the ride and not try to hard to figure everything out.

i loved the blog posts and the comments! so much fun. I'm going to re-read that chocolate cake section today :)

also, last week in Melbourne, Jaclyn said she often gets feedback that people dont like Emily (!!!) argh! i mean, how could you not!

although, if you ever read Bindy MacKenzie - well, Jaclyn does an outstanding job with an unlikeable, annoying, unpopular protag. hahaha.

Bee said...

I love the cobweb imagery, you know. I loved so many things about this lovely, big book. And I agree that you must not try connecting things much while you read this...just let it flow.

I adore this review.
And I'll suggest you read Feeling Sorry For Celia, too ~ totally <3 it!



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