Review: ‘The Year of the Gadfly’ by Jennifer Miller

by Kim on May 21, 2012 · 19 comments

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Title: The Year of the Gadfly
Author: Jennifer Miller
Genre: Fiction
Year: 2012
Acquired: From the publisher as part of a TLC Book Tour
Rating: ★★★★☆

One Sentence Summary: Budding journalist Iris Dupont tries to take down a secret society at her New England prep school while investigating a mysterious science teacher and an incident from the past still making waves today.

One Sentence Review: The Year of the Gadfly is a book that appealed to all of my literary weak spots that managed to surprise me with every turn of the page.

A Bonus Link: Normally, I’m not that into book trailers, but the trailer for The Year of the Gadfly is quite fun (and has a few seconds of my journalism crush, Brian Williams). Check it out!

Review: New England prep school Mariana Academy has an unsullied reputation and a serious honor code to match. But when budding journalist Iris Dupont (who spends her spare time confiding in the specter of her journalism mentor Edward R. Murrow) arrives, she makes it her mission to investigate a mysterious secret society that uses the honor code to shame and target fellow students. To get inside the society, Iris agrees to investigate one of her teachers, Mr. Kaplan, who has a mysterious connection to the school in his past.

Based on that summary, I think it’s pretty clear how many of my literary weak spots Jennifer Miller’s The Year of the Gadfly appealed to. I love stories about journalists and stories about high school and stories that incorporate mysteries, which this book has in spades. Couple that with an appealing writing style and a story that jumps across time and with multiple narrators, and you basically have a book written exactly for me. Happily, The Year of the Gadfly didn’t disappoint on any of those counts.

Iris was a central character who felt near and dear to my heart. I’ve never connected with the specter of a famous journalist, nor have I spent time investigating secret societies or criminal activities, but I have been a young journalist, looking for a big story and trying to impact change through my writing. At one point, Iris pens a “Maureen Dowd-style tirade against the sexy animal costume phenomenon” that I wish I could have read, since I’ve often wanted to write one of those myself. Iris is much more prickly (and damaged) than I have ever been, but she’s got enough pluck and personality to be appealing and fun to read about. Plus, Miller captured much of what is terrible about being a teenager in a way that made total sense to me:

[Iris] was trapped in the torturous emotional landscape of her adolescence, despising her alientation but thriving on it all the same.

Another thing I loved about this book was how well-plotted the story was — I never quite knew where each section was going, what Iris was supposed to figure out and how the other characters fit into the central mysteries. The entire story is much more complicated and mysterious than the summary suggests, which was so much fun to discover and sort out as I read.

The Year of the Gadfly was really just a deeply delightful, mysterious, engaging book. Some of the copy and blurbs on my ARC compare it to Special Topics and Calamity Physics, Prep and The Secret History, which may help give you a sense of what to expect better than I’ve been able to do. Either way, I highly recommend the book.

Other Reviews:  The Scarlet Letter | Unabridged Chick | Just Joanna | Books in the City | Drey’s Library | Bookstack | Books Distilled |

If you have reviewed this book, please leave a link to the review in the comments and I will add your review to the main post. All I ask is for you to do the same to mine — thanks!

{ 17 comments… read them below or add one }

Steph May 21, 2012 at 11:29 am

I really want to read this one, so I’m glad to hear you found it such a good read! I’ve flipped through the first few pages and found the writing really arresting and playful, but not in an overly precocious way, which I think is deceptively difficult to pull off. I have many of the same literary weaknesses that you do, so I think this one will be right up my alley!

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Kim May 22, 2012 at 8:20 pm

Miller really gets the voices right, with all of the different narrators. I think Iris is the first narrator, and you’re right, her voice is fun. I hope like this one!

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ShootingStarsMag May 21, 2012 at 12:25 pm

This has been on my amazon wish list for a little while now, but i’m not sure I’ve read an actual REVIEW until yours. Still sounds amazing though, and I’m even more excited to check it out. I’m so glad you enjoyed it!!

-Lauren

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bermudaonion (Kathy) May 21, 2012 at 2:27 pm

You had me at prep school secret society. This sounds good!

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Kim May 22, 2012 at 8:20 pm

Has any book ever included a prep school secret society and not been at least a little bit fun? I think not :)

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Mandy May 22, 2012 at 12:45 pm

This review comes at the perfect time, as I just finished The Secret History yesterday (I’ll write about it on my blog tomorrow). I have requested Year of the Gadfly from my library, and hopefully I won’t have to wait too long to get it! Need more prep school secret societies! :)

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Kim May 22, 2012 at 8:23 pm

Cool! I’m very curious about that one after seeing the comparison! I feel like I’ve read good reviews of that one at some point too.

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Christy (A Good Stopping Point) May 22, 2012 at 8:05 pm

The whole confiding in a famous dead person thing makes me think of Geraldine McCaughrean’s The White Darkness, where the protagonist has conversations with her hero/confidante, dead Antarctic explorer Titus Oates. I really liked The White Darkness so that and your review bodes well for whether I’d like The Year of the Gadfly.

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Kim May 22, 2012 at 8:25 pm

That sounds like fun. I don’t think I’ve read any books with the confiding with dead people thing, but it was cool.

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Athira May 23, 2012 at 6:14 am

For the same reasons you mention, I want to read this book! High school and journalistic characters – perfect!

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Kailana May 23, 2012 at 10:28 am

This sounds good! I will have to add it to my wish list. Great review, Kim!

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Andi May 23, 2012 at 11:49 am

This one’s popped up on my radar, and I have quite a few weak spots represented here as well. Glad to know it worked and kept you guessing a bit.

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Heather J. @ TLC Book Tours May 25, 2012 at 12:06 pm

This DOES sound like it is exactly your kind of book Kim – I’m so glad it didn’t disappoint!

Thanks for being on the tour.

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Jenny May 26, 2012 at 6:29 am

So many sweet spots this book sounds like it hits in the world of my literary taste. Unfortunately it is all checked out at both of the libraries I frequent, so I will have to wait to revel in the secret society prep school stuff.

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Kim May 29, 2012 at 8:29 pm

I hope you will get to read it soon!

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Colleen May 26, 2012 at 5:21 pm

I really liked this one too – I also loved Prep so when I saw the blurb compare it to Prep, I was sold! I love that you have a journalism crush!

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Kim May 29, 2012 at 8:30 pm

I haven’t read Prep, but now I really want to.

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