Reconstructing Amelia, the debut novel of Kimberly McCreight, tells an emotionally moving story of a hard-working but well-meaning mother as she tries to pick up and examine the pieces of her teenage daughter’s shocking and mysterious death.
This novel is told from two different POVs—that of Amelia, an intelligent 15-year-old attending an exclusive private school in New York City, and her mother, Kate, a successful but busy lawyer who tries her best to be a good mom. The narrative shifts through time, allowing the reader to learn more about Amelia by following her throughout the last several weeks of her life, all while keeping tabs on Kate as she deals with the aftermath of her daughter’s death and the haunting instinct she has that Amelia did not really commit suicide. Then the chilling question is presented: Was it suicide that caused Amelia’s death, or was it murder?
This premise is tragic but makes for an intriguing story. I have to give it to McCreight—something about her writing puts the reader under a spell. As soon as I got into the story, which didn’t take long since the plot pulls you from the first page, I found it hard to put this book down. The story unravels at just the right pace, too—slow enough to keep the reader wanting more, but never sluggish. I couldn’t flip the pages fast enough, especially towards the end as the drama intensified and the suspense was built at its peak. It if I could describe the book is one word it would be engrossing.
Kate was an incredible character. She was strong and complex in my eyes. One might assume because she’s a working mom who works long, intense hours as a lawyer would mean she doesn’t care to slip into the mom role often. However, that’s not Kate at all. She proves that one can have a high-profile career and still be completely dedicated to their child. It’s so apparent that Amelia meant everything to Kate. Of course, the fact that Amelia is now dead makes Kate’s grief, pain, and heartache even more tangible.
Amelia was a bit more stereotypical. She embodied the “smart girl who risks her bright future because she wants to fit in with the cool girls” narrative that I’ve seen hundreds of times in other books, movies, and TV shows. When it came to the sections with her POV, I felt like the book was trying too hard to create some sort of Gossip Girl vibe. It came off as inauthentic to me. The Facebook statuses and text messages of Amelia’s that were inserted throughout the book were an interesting concept since they displayed what Amelia’s world looked like and also gave Kate an opportunity to learn more about her daughter.
However, I almost wish they weren’t included at all since they were so unrealistic to me. Teenagers actually don’t use the excessive “text speak” that the author employs in Amelia’s text message conversations, and this is a mistake that I’ve seen many other writers make.
Kate’s journey into figuring out Amelia’s life while also dealing with her new one without her daughter is definitely a wild one. Cryptic text messages sent from anonymous sources, hazing rituals of secret clubs, and the mystery surrounding the identity of Amelia’s biological father are just some of the crazy yet entertaining aspects that are present in Reconstructing Amelia. The drama never stops, and it kind of reads like a Lifetime movie in a way.
This was a novel that definitely made me think—and feel. McCreight’s enthralling writing lifted this story to new heights, and the mystery-fueled plot navigated by a cast of characters who experience many twists and turns in their lives is something to be experienced.