I experienced highs and lows during Reconstructing Amelia, a maybe-maybe-not YA mystery that alternates between the point of view of fifteen-year-old Amelia and her mother following what appears to be Amelia’s suicide at her swanky private high school. As her mother, Kate, tries to make some sense of the details around Amelia’s death, we also go back to Amelia’s life in the months before her death and are treated to the slow reveal of her spiral. The closer Kate gets to the truth, so do we get closer to Amelia’s end in her own words.
The biggest problem with Reconstructing Amelia is that it’s nothing new. From the running theme of how awful teenage girls are, with their flagrant promiscuity and horrible bullying of their peers (ed. note: read the preceding with a dash of sarcasm, because while it’s not untrue that there have been some awful, mean teenage girls, this trope has been DONE TO DEATH), to the always on-trend plotline of the missing/dead girl/woman, I can’t really pick out anything particularly unique about this book.
The good news is that the story moves along at a steady pace, and that the reveal of what happened to Amelia toes the line nicely of being unexpected but the most likely explanation at the end of the day. I’m willing to ignore the ludicrousness of the detective investigating Amelia’s case inviting Kate along on every interview since, as a writing device, it allowed us to learn the details in real-time rather than through the detective relaying everything to Kate second-hand or pretending (like so many mysteries do) that Kate herself is a detective and having her figure everything out on her own.
In general, I liked Reconstructing Amelia. The biggest issue I had with it, as I suggested earlier, is that it totally indulges in the salacious obsession with teenage girls as these beautiful, Machiavellian, femme fatales in training. They can’t be controlled by a school full of faculty and administrators, or by their parents. And so, there exists a super secret club, which is the worst super secret club ever since everyone seems to know who they are, which hazes the shit out of its inductees and whose members don’t even really seem to like each other all that much. They are teenage terrorists and they are coming for your self-esteem! The lead mean girl is so moustache-twirly that it lessens the cautionary tale, because I simply don’t believe that villains like her exist with such an overwhelming frequency as they are represented in fictional tales.
So why read the book? Well, maybe you like the ages-old story of the seduction of innocents and how they meet their demise. Maybe you’re interested in a mystery. I’m not sure I would recommend it if you’re looking for anything noteworthy from the perspective of Amelia’s mother, unless you’re into lamentations on how hard it is to be a corporate lawyer and a single mom. (Which it is, I’m sure, but Kate’s life decision guilt is dialed up to 11 since Amelia’s death and the refrain is absolutely beaten to death.) As I said earlier (and as evident from my rating) I enjoyed it overall, but much of that may be attributed to satisfaction at the end. I wouldn’t recommend the audiobook, which suffers from the narrator doing far too good of a job speaking in that stereotypical, grating “mean girl” voice that pops up so much in the book. It’s not the narrator’s fault that these lines are written with a sneer and are therefore meant to be spoken as such, but gawd, it is tough to listen to.