Review: Reconstructing Amelia by Kimberly McCreight

May 12, 2013 4 - 4.5 Stars, Bullying, Death, Kimberly McCreight, Mystery, Prep School, Rich Kids 4 ★★★★

Reconstructing Amelia by Kimberly McCreight
Published by HarperCollins on April 2, 2013
Genres: Mystery
Format: Hardcover
Source: Library
A stunning debut novel in which a single mother reconstructs her teenaged daughter's life, sifting through her emails, texts, and social media to piece together the shocking truth about the last days of her life.

Litigation lawyer and harried single mother Kate Baron is stunned when her daughter's exclusive private school in Park Slope, Brooklyn, calls with disturbing news: her intelligent, high-achieving fifteen-year-old daughter, Amelia, has been caught cheating.

Kate can't believe that Amelia, an ambitious, levelheaded girl who's never been in trouble would do something like that. But by the time she arrives at Grace Hall, Kate's faced with far more devastating news. Amelia is dead.

Seemingly unable to cope with what she'd done, a despondent Amelia has jumped from the school's roof in an act of "spontaneous" suicide. At least that's the story Grace Hall and the police tell Kate. And overwhelmed as she is by her own guilt and shattered by grief, it is the story that Kate believes until she gets the anonymous text:

She didn't jump.

Sifting through Amelia's emails, text messages, social media postings, and cell phone logs, Kate is determined to learn the heartbreaking truth about why Amelia was on Grace Hall's roof that day-and why she died.

Told in alternating voices, Reconstructing Amelia is a story of secrets and lies, of love and betrayal, of trusted friends and vicious bullies. It's about how well a parent ever really knows a child and how far one mother will go to vindicate the memory of a daughter whose life she could not save.
We learn in the opening pages of Reconstructing Amelia that fifteen year-old Amelia fell to her death from the roof of her Brooklyn prep school, an action ruled a suicide.  Even at this early point, the moment hits hard when Amelia’s mother shows up at school to pick her up, unaware of the tragedy that occurred.  Her mother, a single parent and partner at a prestigious law firm, is knocked back by grief and blames herself.  She drifts through her daily life until she receives an anonymous text informing her that Amelia’s death was not a suicide.  Kate is forced out of her grief and makes it her mission to uncover everything she can about her daughter’s death.

The reconstructing of the title refers to Kate’s tireless and emotionally-draining work to solve the mysteries of Amelia’s life based on information gleaned from e-mails, texts, a nasty, anonymous school blog, and Amelia’s own writings.  Kate discovers a daughter she doesn’t recognize; perhaps one who didn’t love her mother as much as Kate believed.  The more Kate discovers about Amelia’s life, the more she realizes how little she knew about her daughter.

The book alternates between time and POVs.  We get Kate’s POV following Amelia’s death, as well as Amelia’s POV in the period before her death.  The two are on a crash course leading up to the moment on the roof.  It’s cleverly done, and we learn little bits about Amelia and what may have lead to her death before her mother does.  It becomes clear early on that Amelia is the target of a pack of vicious bullies at her school.  The question is whether Amelia’s death was an accident, a suicide as a result of bullying, or a murder at the hands of her tormentors.  I changed my mind about the cause with nearly every chapter.  Even as the reconstruction of the last days of Amelia’s life continues, McCreight holds some tantalizing details just out of reach.  Things like: Was XXX involved?  What does YYY’s ZZZ have to do with it.

The moments leading up to Amelia’s death were heart-breaking.  I’d become fond of this strong, brave girl, and even as the days ticked down towards her death, I kept wishing that somehow she could make it out alive.   I also wish that Reconstructing Amelia had been a straightforward look at bullying, (possible) suicide, and grief.  It succeeded for about 95% of the book until twist after twist was piled on at the end.  The worst was the far-fetched revelation of the identity of the author of the nasty blog.  None of them added anything to the powerful themes that preceded them.  The sensationalism, in fact, detracts from an otherwise moving story of a mother’s fierce and unconditional love.

Review posted at  Goodreads.


4 Responses to “Review: Reconstructing Amelia by Kimberly McCreight”

  1. Lectus Read

    It sounds pretty interesting. I like that is set on Park Slope, Brooklyn; not that I live there but I have been around 🙂

    I will add it to my list.

  2. Kim (YA Asylum)

    I haven’t heard that much about this book, but it sounds interesting. You don’t see too many books that are balance of YA POV’s and Adult. It’s too bad the revelations at the end aren’t as good as they could be.

  3. rivie bleu

    It sounds like it was a great story overall. I’m curious of the ending, what really happened and why it wasn’t what you expected.

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