"The Year of the Gadfly" by Jennifer Miller
Teens' buried secrets, societies
- Article by: MEGANNE FABREGA
- Special to the Star Tribune
- June 5, 2012 - 4:27 PM
As everybody knows, being a teenager can be a pretty brutal affair. Oh, sure, there are the proms, the big games and the blossoming of first love, but there's also the possibility of getting targeted by a secret society whose goal is to expose your most shameful secret in front of the entire student body.
In Jennifer Miller's first novel, "The Year of the Gadfly" (Hougton Mifflin Harcourt, 374 pages, $24), the halls of Mariana Academy in fictional Nye, Mass., are run with an iron fist by a group of teen outlaws who call themselves "Prisom's Party."
Iris Dupont is the 14-year-old new girl in town with a penchant for reporting and an invisible friend who happens to be the ghost of legendary broadcast journalist Edward R. Murrow. Shortly after she steps on campus, Iris is swept into an old-fashioned story of intrigue with a modern twist, complete with underground tunnels, mysterious symbols, Tylenol P.M. and enemies disguised as friends.
As Iris reports on innocuous stories for the school paper, she is slowly drawn into the drama behind the official scenes and walks into a sticky web of 10-year-old grudges and cover-ups that should never see the light of day, most centering around Prisom's Party and Iris' teacher, Mr. Kaplan.
Iris' new friend Hazel sports a ring that featured a horsefly, also known as a gadfly, and explains how "Socrates was called the Gadfly of Athens. No matter how hard his opponents tried to swat him away, he kept biting them with difficult suggestions."
"He sounds like a journalist," Iris replied.
While Miller infuses humor and witty repartee into her writing, the novel's protagonists, of which there are many, are dogged by their own specters of loss beyond the petty teen squabbles of the freaks and the geeks. Unfortunately, the narrative is frequently overwhelmed by its perpetual discoveries -- a letter here, a video there, a book here -- and some unnecessary plot twists detract from an otherwise solid story.
Miller, author of the book "Inheriting the Holy Land: An American's Search for Hope in the Middle East," based "The Year of the Gadfly" on her own personal experience with a tragic loss in high school. Throughout the novel, Miller refers to the scientific category of "extremeophiles" and says that she considers the definition a "pretty apt summary of teenage life: a time when our outsized loves, fears and obsessions come to replace everything comfortable and familiar."
In other words, who needs "The Hunger Games" when the teenage years in our own day and age can be frightening enough?
Meganne Fabrega is a freelance writer and a member of the National Book Critics Circle.
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