Review Blog

Jun 28 2012

The year of the gadfly by Jennifer Miller

cover image

Text, 2012. ISBN 0781921922886.
(Age: 16+) What a fascinating novel! With an initial quotation from Plato, and definitions of 'Marvellous Species' beginning each section, Miller takes us directly into the story of Iris Dupont, a quirky, and free spirited young woman, who moves to a smart preparatory school in a leafy town in north-eastern United States in 2012 to allow her a buffer after the death of her best friend.  Iris is suffering great anguish and her parents are concerned as she has been heard talking to an imaginary, albeit famous, friend.
This is a novel of individual stories, the characters connected by time and place, tell their stories, in the first person, in very personal narratives. Given that a gadfly is an insect that annoys horses, and is, metaphorically, a person who upsets the status quo, the title is apt.
In his schooldays, in 1999, Jonah, a fiery red-head, was desperately in love with Hazel, a manipulative, tempestuous red-head in love with Jonah's twin brother, Justin, who was desperately in love with Lily. Lily's early brush with horrendous sun-burn foreshadows the dreadful abuse that she willingly endures later to fit into the cool group. Jonah has returned to teach at his old prep school, to put things right.
The narratives move between 1999 and 2013. We hear of Lily's story through a video, Sacrificial Lamb, which chillingly suggests the pressures to conform and be liked in adolescent years, even in expensive schools for intelligent students preparing for higher education.
This novel is captivating in its characterisation and its revelation of the thoughts and emotions of deeply-troubled young people.
Elizabeth Bondar

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