“Kate’s in the middle of the biggest meeting of her career when she gets the telephone call from Grace Hall, her daughter’s exclusive private school in Park Slope, Brooklyn. Amelia has been suspended, effective immediately, and Kate must come get her daughter—now. But Kate’s stress over leaving work quickly turns to panic when she arrives at the school and finds it surrounded by police officers, fire trucks, and an ambulance. By then it’s already too late for Amelia. And for Kate.
An academic overachiever despondent over getting caught cheating has jumped to her death. At least that’s the story Grace Hall tells Kate. And clouded as she is by her guilt and grief, it is the one she forces herself to believe. Until she gets an anonymous text: She didn’t jump.
Reconstructing Amelia is about secret first loves, old friendships, and an all-girls club steeped in tradition. But, most of all, it’s the story of how far a mother will go to vindicate the memory of a daughter whose life she couldn’t save.”
Thoughts: We’ve all been there. That unexpected phone call that usually comes at the worst time, telling you that you have to pick up your child from school as soon as possible. The first response is one of annoyance at the poor timing followed quickly by guilt that you could ever think your child an annoyance. Then it becomes a rush to finish up a project, juggle schedules, inform the powers that be, decide what work to bring home, maneuver through traffic, and get to the school in a timely fashion, before the school calls again wondering where you are and mentally add your name to the bad parent list for not arriving sooner. To Kate, it is just one more example of the fight for balance she has had to maintain over her career as a junior partner in a prestigious law firm while a single mother. Yet, when she arrives later than planned to her daughter’s school, she faces any parent’s worst nightmare. Kimberly McCreight’s Reconstructing Amelia spotlights a mother’s grief at the loss of her child and her need to find better answers than the ones given to her.
Ms. McCreight uses Kate to speak for all working mothers and their never-ending debates regarding work life and motherhood. Her struggles to find the right balance, opting for quality weekend time over being home at regular hours on week nights, the reliance of a nanny, and time-saving methods, are familiar to any mother looking to assuage the guilt associated with missing a child’s concert or game because of a business trip or meeting. Of course, that guilt is nothing compared to the blame she feels at not arriving at Grace Hall sooner. Through Kate, working mothers also get to live out their biggest fears – that something would happen to their children, and their presence could have prevented it. By making Kate so relatable, drawing on familiar maternal instincts and warring needs, there is an increased urgency behind her need to discover the truth, as if a reader is urging Kate forward to help prevent something similar from happening to one’s own children.
As powerful as the emotional content is, and as utterly sympathetic as Kate is in her anguish and desperation, there are a few issues with the book that may cause a reader some heartache. First, while Kate is emotionally sympathetic, her life of privilege will distant some readers/working mothers who are working because they have to do so rather than because they want to work. Kate’s nanny, housecleaner, Amelia’s private school education, her Brooklyn brownstone, Kate’s parents – everything about Kate and Amelia screams money. While earning enough money to afford such luxuries is always wonderful, it does cause the tiniest bit of friction between Kate and the reader, as a reader knows that such luxuries come at a price. All working mothers make sacrifices, either in career or in family, but it seems as if Kate’s sacrifices to this point are fairly miniscule until she loses her daughter.
The other issue readers might find in the novel is the fact that Kate assists the police with their investigation, as in she not only tags along at visits to potential suspects but gets involved in the questioning and collection of evidence. Her indignation when she is finally told she has to stop is understandable, but one cannot help but wonder why she was allowed to be an active participant in the first place. Granted, her participation helps with the narrative and creates more tension as she fits to control her frustration and desperation. However, it just is not very realistic and dilutes the message as it makes her no different from the other mothers she meets.
However emotional Kate’s search is, Amelia’s story is the one that will draw readers the most. Through various Facebook posts, text messages, and first-person narrative, one gets to know Amelia quite well, through all her doubts, fears, triumphs, and failures. Amelia becomes the daughter the reader wishes she had, since she really is a good girl with the whole world ahead of her, making her loss that much more tragic. The secret club situation at Grace Hall may be stereotypical, but it is an effective one as Amelia’s experiences in the club remind female readers how tough it is to be a teenage girl in any age but confirm that the advent of social media and the use of cell phones have made girl-on-girl bullying even more psychologically sadistic than it used to be. The unveiling of the truth, not through Kate’s discoveries but through Amelia’s eyes, serve to highlight the peer pressure she faces as well as the complex world of teens that parents can never completely understand, and Amelia’s last scene is absolutely haunting in its honesty and innocence.
Since the story is told from two different perspectives, the ability to distinguish between the two voices is key to making Reconstructing Amelia a successful audiobook. Thankfully, Khristine Hvam is more than up to the challenge. She manages to convey Kate’s business-like professionalism and contrast that with the more emotionally fraught teenage voice of her daughter. She also takes her narration one step further by intoning into each of her characters that nasally, valley girl-like inflection that permeates today’s younger generation’s speech patterns. Listening to Ms. Hvam’s Magpies really is like listening to a gaggle of teenagers. Her male voices are equally impressive, as she drops her voice just enough to sound masculine and differentiate between the various male characters without sounding completely false or strained. Overall, hers is a satisfying performance that does much to enhance the context of Amelia’s last few weeks.
Reconstructing Amelia may not be as completely shocking as last year’s It book, Gone Girl, but it definitely brings its own surprises. Ms. McCreight uses the dual narration to great effect, as she highlights Kate’s emotional fragility with Amelia’s self-discovery. Her overall message is equally timely given the emphasis on ending bullying that has increased in schools around the country. Kate and Amelia are both strong, remarkable women, and readers will empathize with them both from the very beginning. The tragic loss of Amelia and its underlying reasons are eye-opening and will make readers hug their children just a bit tighter at night in an effort to protect them longer.
All content on this blog is protected under US copyright by Michelle Shannon. All content is original and cannot be copied without permission. Copyright That’s What She Read 2009-2013
I have an affiliate relationship with several bookstores, including Powell’s Books and IndieBound. All affiliate income is used to support the blog.