This Week in the Mercury


Tuesday, May 1, 2012

On the Nightstand: The Year of the Gadfly

Posted by Alison Hallett on Tue, May 1, 2012 at 10:44 AM

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This book came in the mail yesterday and I stayed up much later than I should have last night reading it: Jennifer Miller's The Year of the Gadfly, a mystery story set at an East Coast prep school that draws immediate comparison to Marisha Pessl's Special Topics in Calamity Physics but has none of that novel's showy precociousness. It's about a young girl who wants so badly to be a journalist that she frequently converses with her dead mentor, Edward R. Murrow—a tic that landed her in therapy when her mother overheard a one-sided conversation. (This detail reminds me of Willy Vlautin's great Northline, in which protagonist Allison Johnson is mentored by an imaginary Paul Newman.)

Iris is the new kid at a poncy, competitive college prep school where Ivy-aiming overachievers declare "majors" their sophomore year and a vigilante secret society inflicts elaborate revenge-pranks on the student body. (Obligatory nod to other prep-school fictions so far: 1 Dead Poets Society reference.) I'm about 150 pages in and Iris has yet to rake any muck, but she's beginning an investigation into the secret society that seems to be leading her in the direction of her biology teacher, who happens to be a former student.

Wisely, author Jennifer Miller gives us some perspective on Iris, offering chapters from the point of view of the biology teacher (a 28-year-old who finds Iris "exasperating") as well as flashback scenes set in the school ten years earlier. I'm still not sure how all the pieces are going to come together, but I'm really enjoying it so far. The book comes out a week from today; the library says you can put it on hold right here.

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