Release Date: July 5, 2012
Publisher: Dutton Juvenile (Penguin)
Age Group: Young Adult
Source: ARC received from publisher
Becca has always longed to break free from her small, backwater hometown. But the discovery of an unidentified dead girl on the side of a dirt road sends the town–and Becca–into a tailspin. Unable to make sense of the violence of the outside world creeping into her backyard, Becca finds herself retreating inward, paralyzed from moving forward for the first time in her life.
Short chapters detailing the last days of Amelia Anne Richardson’s life are intercut with Becca’s own summer as the parallel stories of two young women struggling with self-identity and relationships on the edge twist the reader closer and closer to the truth about Amelia’s death.
Tell Me More: With one of the most captivating and symbolic covers in YA history, Amelia Anne Is Dead and Gone sets the reader up for a story just as fragile and gritty. Despite my desire to love this novel, however, it just fell short of almost every expectation I had thought to create.
To settle any misgivings that might be forming even now in your minds, I will say that Kat Rosenfield’s writing is superb. Wordsmiths like her are rare in my experience, and I savoured the literary gems that were laid out almost carelessly in the text. You get the sense that Rosenfield is a very particular writer. It’s easy to imagine her painstakingly writing and rewriting phrases just to get the perfect cadence and melody, not to mention meaning. That meticulous attention gives life to a rather cliché small town, and more interestingly, illustrates a leashed violence in the character of Becca.
I seem to be alone in my thoughts regarding the characters–most people who’ve read this book were fascinated by them, and Amelia Anne was an enigma to be solved. Unfortunately, I figured out the plot by page 50. There wasn’t anything surprising about Becca; in fact, I could almost predict exactly what she would say, when she’d say it. Amelia Anne was far more mesmerising, but even she fell to the wayside for…well, it’s not exactly clear. My dissatisfaction with this story doesn’t really lie with the plot, but with the characters’ lack of decisive action. Becca vacillates between being “too cool for school” to speak her thoughts and being overwhelmingly frustrated with her life. I wanted to like her, but there were many scenes where I just wanted to shake her and say “You CAN change your life. Make good decisions!” And then I’d watch her sink back into safety, into the cocoon she can’t seem to stop creating. It got to the point where I just wanted to give up on her, because it seemed like she was giving up on herself.
That frustration is part of why I wasn’t happy with the storyline that Amelia Anne follows. A conversation with a friend led me to consider the discomfort I felt when applying feminism to my analysis of this story. Both Becca and Amelia Anne are tied to boys who are abusive–one emotionally, one physically/mentally–and it’s clear by the halfway point that something will happen to change the status quo. For a book that is aimed at young women, Amelia Anne is stark and depressing, and there isn’t much hope to feel even at the end of the story. In fact, the ending made me genuinely angry. (Highlight for spoilers) What, exactly, is the connection between the death of James’ mother and his need to murder Amelia Anne? I wanted Becca to leave James because of her own realizations about their relationship and her life, not because he’s going to jail. I didn’t think James was a weak character–in fact, I predicted that he would have killed AA because he has control issues with Becca, but to blame it on his inability to move on after his mother’s death? It’s a weak premise, and one that I was highly disappointed in, considering I spent 300-something pages and a few hours of my time getting to this point. The relationships portrayed in this story bothered me a lot, not because of their existence, but because of how they were treated by the author as nothing more than plot twists. I expected more from such a raw and beautifully written story.
The Final Say: Readers looking for a stark literary novel will certainly find much to laud about Amelia Anne, but the story doesn’t quite justify its ending, nor its characters. Maybe it doesn’t feel it has to.