Book Review – Reconstructing Amelia

Reconstructing AmeliaReconstructing Amelia by Kimberly McCreight

My rating:  (4 / 5)

“…[E]ven I know that being a parent is awful ninety-five percent of the time…As far as I can tell, it’s that last five percent that keeps the human race from dying out. Four parts blinding terror, one part perfection. It’s like mainlining heroin. One taste of life on that edge and you’re hooked.”

I am not sure why I am reading such sad books lately, but this one is a 1/2 kleenex box full of sad. But it’s also full of wonderful drama and secrets and truths about relationships.

Amelia is a lost child, lost to a fall from the roof of her school, and her mother Kate – a sweet and kind mom and a cutthroat lawyer at a top firm, is trying to reconstruct her daughter’s life, to try and solve the puzzle that would explain why her daughter is gone. Because if Amelia truly killed herself, which is what the police and the school seem to think happened, then is it because Kate put her career ahead of her daughter? Did she not give enough to her, as a single mom, did she not know enough about her daughter’s life? Why didn’t she see this coming?

“Sometimes it’s hard to tell how fast the current’s moving until you’re headed over a waterfall.”

Some of this book is told through flashbacks, where we can see Amelia’s life through her eyes. And it was really kind of awful because – hello? – High School. You remember high school, right? And how hard it was? For Amelia there is one saving grace – she has a friend, Sylvia, who has been there for her since early elementary school. And although they were different in many respects, what they did have was each other.

“Clothes were to Sylvia what books were to me: the only thing that really mattered.”

But when Sylvia’s back-and-forth with boys leaves Amelia feeling lonely and a group of popular girls seems to take interest in her, things get dicey. And then scary. Because when there’s a grown-old but not grown-up mean girl or two in the wings pulling strings, things can get pretty dangerous.

“But some things you can’t outrun, no matter how fast you move your legs.”

There are layers of mystery here, and it is heartbreaking to unravel them alongside Kate. Their mother/daughter relationship was striking and lovely, but even the most loving and connected of teenagers keep secrets from their parents. It is the way of the world. And having them laid bare at Kate’s feet once her daughter was beyond her reach was just devastating. There were so many things Amelia wanted to tell her mother but didn’t or couldn’t, and so many times her mother could have listened, but didn’t or wasn’t able to. It’s a reminder of how much, sometimes, our interior lives differ from the bits of our lives we let even those closest to us see.

“It was too late to change anything. Too late to make different choices. To be a better mother than she had been. Kate could only be the mother that she was, Amelia’s mother—the curator of her memory, the keeper of her secrets, the cherisher of her heart. That, she would always be.”

One last note – this book kept me guessing, and yes there are female characters doing weird, mean, and unfeminine things in this book, but I do not get the references that this is like Gone Girl. It’s just… not, and it should be good enough to let it stand on it’s own merits without that literary come-hither. This book is full of strong female characters, both good and bad, and that’s an awesome thing. It just doesn’t make it anything like an arbitrarily chosen other popular book with a strong female character.

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