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.
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!