I’m sure all the mothers out there can appreciate how difficult it is to really know what is happening in our children’s lives these days. I mean, on the surface, it seems like it would be easier, right? We have phones that connect us immediately – but the flip side of that is that, because of this technology, our kids can live lives very separate from us, too. When I was a teenager there was one phone and it was in the kitchen. If you got a call, you took it in full view of your parents and siblings; there were ears everywhere. Hardly anyone calls my house phone anymore – and certainly not the friends of my kids.
It is this very private world that is central to Kimberly McCreight’s suspenseful and timely novel Reconstructing Amelia.
Kate Baron is a high-powered lawyer and single mom. She and her fifteen-year-old daughter, Amelia, live in Brooklyn, where Amelia attends Grace Hall, a hoity-toity private school. Despite Kate’s busy job, she and Amelia share a close bond, likely forged because it’s always been just the two of them. There have been a few bumps in the road recently: Kate chalks it up to teenage moodiness. Then she gets a call from the school: Amelia is being suspended, for plagiarizing an essay. The suspension is a shock to Kate because
Amelia had never been in trouble in her entire life. Her teachers called her a delight – bright, creative, thoughtful, focused. She excelled in athletics and was involved in every extracurricular activity under the sun. She volunteered once a month at CHIPS, a local soup kitchen, and regularly helped out at school events.
The accusation of cheating is clearly a mistake. However, when Kate arrives at Grace Hall she is devastated to discover that her daughter is dead (not a spoiler: it’s on the book jacket). Apparently, Amelia jumped from the roof of the school. Although Kate can’t quite believe her daughter would do such a thing, the police rule Amelia’s death a suicide and the case is closed.
That is until Kate gets an anonymous text: Amelia didn’t jump.
With the help of Lew, a crusty police detective, Kate begins reconstructing Amelia’s life only to discover that there were many things she didn’t know about her daughter.
There are dual narratives in McCreight’s book. Kate’s limited third person narrative allows us to take her journey, but we also have Amelia’s first person narration – which gives the reader a glimpse into a life Kate could never be privy to. There are also text conversations, Facebook posts, and an anonymous blog called ‘gRaCeFULLY,’ which tracks the comings and goings of Grace Hall students. All the bits fit together to create a picture of entitled girlhood and head-in-the-sand adulthood.
There are some bits of the book which didn’t necessarily belong (Rowan) and I am not 100% sure I bought some of the twists, (I won’t say which because, hello, spoilers) but that doesn’t mean I didn’t turn those pages at breakneck speed to find out what happened to Amelia and why.
I would like to think that the girls in Reconstructing Amelia are just fictional, but I know that’s naïve. Sometimes, even when we love our kids and feel close to them, we don’t always know what is really happening in their worlds. That’s the sad truth.