Jaclyn Moriarty has created some brilliant and realistic characters in THE YEAR OF SECRET ASSIGNMENTS. The whole novel is told in alternating letters between the Ashbury girls, Emily, Lydia and Cassie and the Brookfield boys, Charlie, Seb and Matthew. The novel also includes notes on the school notice board, memos from Emily’s dad (loved this, I think when the baby can read I shall memo him) and dairy entries. Not to mention Lydia’s How to be a Writer Notebook, which is pure genius and laugh out loud funny.
There is so much I love about this novel, that it’s hard to write a review, part of me doesn’t want to analyze exactly why I loved it so much, in case I ruin the magic. Does that even make sense? Does anyone else ever feel that way?
I am going to try.
First of all, I love how it’s written. It’s so cleverly done. The fact that everyone is writing for another reader makes them all unreliable narrators. But because events are told from many points of view and because we get glimpses into the past, it is possible for the reader to piece together the true picture. Or maybe to piece together the picture the way you want it to be. Depending on what you bring to the novel.
Secondly it is very, very funny but it manages to explore friendship, and life and death, and the fear of the unknown without feeling like it’s trying to do that. In between the funny is a lot of truth.
Thirdly (although this should really be the first point) I LOVE the characters. Lyd, Cass and Em are the type of characters you could imagine being friends with. They leap off the page and feel very real. The dynamic between the three of them is wonderful, they’re role models for friendship. They love each other and care about each other; they see each others faults and accept them anyway. The boys are fabulous too (especially Seb, who is quite swoonworthy). The letters that fly thick and fast between the group feel very real.
So in a sentence. It is funny but sad, real but a little crazy, and it has characters who capture your heart.
Here’s a taste of the book:
Emily to Charlie Okay, now listen here, Charlie. There is no need for you to correct my language. I notice this is getting to be a habit, and I think it is very strange that “garrulous” means talkative. To me, the word “garrulous” has a nervy, shaky feeling matching Auntie Jane to a T.
Charlie to Emily I know you don’t want to be corrected, but I swear to god you mean “up-shot” don’t you? Not ap-chotte? It is not always necessary to translate into another language you know.
Emily to Charlie Can you stop lecturing me please? thanks. It’s really morally resplendent. And besides, it is as if you don’t want me to be ME. . . well, BLEEP (as in the sound of an incorrect answer). it is ALWAYS NECESSARY TO TRANSLATE THINGS.
THE YEAR OF SECRET ASSIGNMENTS is highly recommended. I loved these characters so much that I immediately order THE GHOSTS OF ASHBURY HIGH and put aside a book I was loving just so I could revisit with Em, Lyd and Cass.