Saturday, July 7, 2012

Amelia Anne is Dead and Gone – Kat Rosenfield

Earlier this year, John Corley Whaley’s Where Things Come Back won both the William C. Morris debut book award and the Michael Printz Award for Excellence in Y.A. Literature. Not too shabby for a first time novelist, eh? Part of what made the book stand out was the way Whaley told two seemingly different stories – one involving the disappearance of a fifteen year old boy, the other the suicide of a once God-fearing college student who’s lost his faith - that later intersect into a ‘oh, wow’ climax. In Amelia Anne is Dead and Gone, Rosenfield pulls off a similar feat…only, I think, better.

Amelia Anne is Dead and Gone starts off with a bang – well, actually, it starts with two recent high school graduates banging in the back of a pick-up truck. No sooner are they finished, the sweat still on Becca’s body, when James informs Becca, ‘By the way, we’re done. Over.’ Oooo, burn. That same night across town, a college-age girl is bludgeoned and left for dead by the side of an old country road. Her body isn’t discovered until the next morning when a local townsperson comes up on her dead form, actually driving over and crushing a few of her fingers. As you can now see…this isn’t light reading, kiddos.

As in Where Things Come Back, AAiDaG takes place in a small town, and as Rosenfield writes, “In a small town, murder is three-dimensional…[Amelia’s death] blew alongside the flecks of bloodstained dirt, down Country Road 128, and reached town as a howling gale. The chatter was fevered. Frenzied. People came home from the grocery store, from bridge club, from a walk in the park, and massaged jaw joints that were exhausted from gossiping. They stood over fences and talked about the dead girl, the girl with no name, no face, no identification. “

The thing is, this dead girl has a name for the reader – Amelia. After first meeting her in death, Rosenfield takes us back to meet Amelia as she’s finishing her last semester of college. It’s during that last term that she takes part in a school stage production and discovers she really likes acting – even the director agrees, she has true talent. Her boyfriend, Luke, finds it all silly that she would seriously consider abandoning her business degree to try and pursue a career in acting. Besides, he already has plans for them – plans for them to marry and settle down.

Meanwhile, Rosenfield also lets us get to know the story of Becca and James and how they arrived at their messy breakup. The two first get together the summer before their junior year of high school. What starts out as a small hook-up, nothing serious, soon blossoms though Becca and James are on different paths. Most townies are happy enough to graduate, maybe go to the local community college, but for the most part people settle in town where they live out the rest of their days. Becca plans for more. She plans to go away to college, never come back…but then she falls for James. Poor James is dealing with tragedy of his own – the death of his mother to cancer, a death so crippling to him, that he drops out of school and almost out of life except for his ties to Becca. When he breaks up with Becca the night of Amelia’s murder, he thinks he is finally cutting ties with her.

The death of the strange girl quickly consumes the town and even Becca, who wants James back and reconsiders going away to college. But then facts about the girl’s death start to come out, and Becca starts to suspect someone close to her and James. Even James is acting all weirded about the girl’s death, like he might know something. As the accusations and finger-pointing in town start to fly, Rosenfield slowly reveals what really happened the night Amelia met death – and it’s as ugly, gruesome and sad as any death of a promising young person could be.

Rosenfield is an amazing writer who totally gets the nuances of life in a small town right. Morever, she knows how to build suspense to the point you’ll have to remind yourself to breathe. There’s another side story, about the death several years back of a young fifteen –year-old boy visiting town named Brendan, that tore me up about as bad as Amelia’s story. I could see where she was going with his impending death and found myself wanting to just skip to the next chapter to avoid reading such sadness. She is THAT good of a writer.

This book first came on my radar when author John Green (The Fault in Our Stars, Looking for Alaska, Paper Towns) tweeted about its awesomeness. Obviously, the dark themes in this book mean it’s not for everyone. Also, while it is a young adult book, the high school librarian in me sees it more as an adult than young book. There are a couple of explicit (for Y.A.) sex scenes and rough language, but it befits the story. Just sayin’ – consider yourself informed.

Kat Rosenfield not only writes Y.A. books, but she also freelances for MTV’s Hollywood Crush blog. In other words, she’s got what would be one of my dream jobs. ;-)  You can learn more about Rosenfield and read her blogs both at http://hollywoodcrush.mtv.com/author/katrosenfield/  and http://katrosenfield.com/ .

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