Kimberly McCreight’s Reconstructing Amelia seems to be the big buzz book that everyone is talking about. With comparisons to last year’s Gillian Flynn hit Gone Girl (not one I agree with), and a movie in the works starring Nicole Kidman, it’s easy to see why. When Amy recommended it in Bloggers Recommend and followed up with an equally compelling review at My Friend Amy, I was persuaded to push this one up the stack for sooner rather than later. I wasn’t disappointed with that decision.
Kate Baron is a litigation attorney at a prestigious Manhattan firm and a single mom, guilt-ridden by how little time she spends with her daughter, fifteen-year-old Amelia. Kate struggles to balance work responsibilities with quality time at home but she is never completely satisfied with the equation. Despite her long hours at the firm, she and Amelia have always shared a close loving relationship. But now Amelia has lingering questions about her father, whom she’s never met. The thin cover story Kate has constructed about him is no longer satisfactory.
Kate gets a call asking her to pick Amelia up from Grace Hall She learns that her smart, achieving daughter is uncharacteristically being suspended for plagiarism. Before Kate can get there, Amelia jumps off the roof in what school and police officials term a “spontaneous suicide”. Grieving heavily, Kate tries to come to terms with her daughter’s death, but a text message suggesting Amelia didn’t jump sends Kate on a hunt to find the truth about her daughter’s last days.
McCreight does wonderful work getting the reader into Kate’s head as a parent who has done her best to be true to herself and her career while still supporting her daughter. Amelia has the best of everything and has always known that she is loved. The grief, guilt, and fear Kate feels upon investigating her daughter’s life, and what led to her death, is palpable and deeply touching. Watching Kate face her fears about what her daughter might have felt about her, especially in the last days when they weren’t getting along, was hard. I also felt for Amelia, caught up in losing and finding herself while also juggling mean girls, a questionable relationship with her best friend, her questions about her father, and ultimately her failed attempts to open up to her mother. McCreight’s characters are so real and carefully considered. I thoroughly enjoyed the time I spent with them; even the difficult moments.
There is a special satisfaction in reading novels that acknowledge how changes in communication, technology, and personal online presence have affected our social interactions and relationships. What happens to those communications and pieces of us after our deaths? Most of us will leave behind an extensive online footprint and documentation of our day-by-day thoughts and feelings. Kate struggles to comb through thousands of Amelia’s e-mail and text messages, Facebook and Twitter updates, her daughter’s unadulterated opinion of her, and how Amelia viewed her own life. Amelia’s situation highlights how technology has made it easier to connect in bigger ways and (often going beyond our natural social circles) to be destroyed by the same things on just as large a scale.
McCreight’s novel is incredibly engrossing to start reading it is to commit to finding every spare moment to continue reading. I kept coming back to it–wanting to get just a little closer to finding out what happens to Kate and Amelia. Cleverly, there are several threads to be sorted by the end. Some result in more satisfying and plausible conclusions than others, but the emotions and relationships are spot on, and cannot be denied. Reconstructing Amelia is well worth the read and every stolen moment you’ll take to finish it. Highly Recommended.