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Saturday, October 27, 2012

'Amelia Anna is Dead and Gone' by Kat Rosenfield

From the BLURB:

Becca has always longed to break free. Free from her backwater hometown. Free from its small-town gossip and dead-end lives.

But the horrifying discovery of a dead body—an outsider, Amelia Anne, battered and broken—on the morning after graduation sends Becca into an unexpected tailspin. As the violence of the real world creeps close to home, Becca retreats, paralyzed from moving forward for the first time in her life.

The details of Amelia Anne’s final, harrowing moments play out against Becca’s own out-of-control summer as Becca and Amelia’s parallel stories twist the reader closer and closer to the horrifying truths of Amelia’s last days.

This emotionally arresting, sexy, and raw debut tells the vivid story of two young women struggling with self-identity and relationships on the edge.

At the same time that Amelia Anne Richardson was dying on a lonely dirt road, Becca was having her heart broken in the back of her boyfriend’s truck.

While Becca gets ready to blow out of her small Southern town and mend the heart that James broke, news of the dead girl travels fast and persistently. And in the wake of her murder, when suspicions turn inwards, James looks to reconnect with Becca over the summer before she leaves for college . . . but with her father as the local judge, Becca finds herself sinking deeper and deeper into the mystery of the dead girl.

Running alongside Becca and James’s last summer together is the story of Amelia. The girl who found herself in acting, but feared she’d lose her boyfriend, Luke, when she broke it to him that their carefully planned life was going to be derailed.

‘Amelia Anne is Dead and Gone’ is the debut young adult novel from Kat Rosenfield.

I’m torn about this novel. Admittedly, when I started reading it there were sad events going on in Melbourne that seemed to eerily echo Rosenfield’s storyline. I am of course talking about Jill Meagher’s tragic death. Amelia Anne being discovered on the side of a sad dirt road sent an awful shiver down my spine, since the very day I started reading this book, it was announced that Jill Meagher’s body had been discovered in a shallow grave on the side of a road in Gisborne.

I actually had to put this book down a few times, because Rosenfield was so acutely and frighteningly describing the atmosphere in Melbourne in the wake of Meagher’s death and the arrest of a man;

In a small town, murder is three-dimensional. We make it that way, elevating it and turning it over until it’s more than a simple tragedy, until it becomes tangible. Murder in a small town is always more than a paragraph in the local paper. In a place so insulated, where lives are so small and gone about so quietly, violent death hangs in the air – tinting everything crimson, weaving itself into the shimmering heat that rises off the winding asphalt roads at noon. It oozes from the taps and runs through the gas pumps. It sits at the dinner table, murmuring in urgent low tones under the clinking of glassware.

I will say that’s the strength of this novel – the atmosphere and Rosenfield’s sinisterly beautiful voice. She is a wonderful writer – with a lovely lyricism to her words that’s both creepy and compelling. But where this novel flails is in the actual meat and bones plot.

The blurb describes how “Becca and Amelia’s parallel stories twist the reader closer and closer to the horrifying truths of Amelia’s last days.” Except Becca and Amelia’s parallel stories don’t ring true. Yes, Becca is looking at the prospect of moving on from her boyfriend, James, once the summer ends and she leaves him behind and goes off to college. Meanwhile, Amelia is in college but has made the decision to pursue an acting career – knowing her boyfriend, Luke, won’t appreciate the news of their life plans are being thrown off-course by her whims. Amelia’s chapters, set in the days before her death, felt clunky and I never really made any sort of connection between her and Becca.

But where I think this story really missed an opportunity was in the small-town repercussions of murder. Becca writes a lot about how the discovery of Amelia Anne’s body is impacting the residents and feeding the rumour-mill. Perhaps the best atmospheric scene is at the book’s beginning when local-boy cops, Jack and Stan, lose their lunch and find themselves completely out of their depth in dealing with a murder. Another great scene was Becca’s omniscient narration describing how Grant Willard became a local celebrity for being the person to first discover the body. I loved these scenes in which we got to meet the locals of her town, and see how the death has impacted and influenced them. But the majority of the book is concerned with Becca and her small circle of friends – particularly James’s friend, the creepy Craig. I wish Rosenfield had written more about the characters of Becca’s town – because it was these scenes that showed off her talent for atmosphere and characterization.

I also thought there was a big aspect of the book missing in Becca’s relationship with her father. Her father, who is the town judge, is her connection to Amelia Anne’s case. Becca mentioned on numerous occasions that the relationship between her mother and father is strained, at best. But her father is really a non-character. I think a lot of what was missing in the parallel connections between Amelia Anne and Becca could have been plugged if Rosenfield had relied more on Becca’s father as a character – and a gateway to the case.

And as much as I loved Rosenfield’s atmospheric writing, there were times when I was utterly confused by moments of convolution. The timeline is particularly hard to wrap your head around. For one thing, Becca is narrating this story from somewhere in the future, looking back. But there were moments when Becca would be in a moment, and then something would trigger her memory and within the same scene she would recount a memory from earlier. If that sounds confusing, it was. There was an instance when Becca has returned from inspecting her college campus and is in a scene with James, but within the same paragraph she begins recounting what happened on the campus tour . . . and it took me a while to realize the scene had suddenly split between now/then without an ellipsis or line break or anything to help aid the timeline. 

All in all, this book could have been superb. Rosenfield could have written a small town murder of ‘Mockingbird’ proportions. She writes pitch-perfect town characters and sets a beautifully creepy atmosphere of a town choking on a mystery. However, it’s a shame that Rosenfield didn’t spend more time introducing us to Becca’s small town characters. And the link between Amelia Anne and Becca felt hollow. A missed-opportunity for a strong father/daughter storyline, and Rosenfield’s complex lyricism did not lend itself to time-shifts.


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