I read this book because John Green told me to. Well not personally, but in this very glowing, very public blog post. Literary teen fiction is one of my fail-safe genres as you can pretty much guarantee that “literary teen fiction” translates to “well-written poignant coming of age story.” The title sounds a little like a country song to me, but it’s also quite unique, much like the book.
Rebecca has always wanted to leave her deadbeat home town Silverlake, even after she falls in love with James in her senior year. But when the dead body of a girl shows up on the outskirts of town all her anxieties about going out into the world are magnified. When some of the locals become obsessed with the crime Rebecca’s suspicion and horror mounts, leading to a tragic misunderstanding that changes everything.
There are elements of the mystery novel here, especially in terms of who killed Amelia, which is revealed in a series of chapters from her perspective interspersed throughout the Rebecca’s main narrative. But moreso than a mystery novel, this is a story about young women on the verge of change. Debut author Kat Rosenfield examines the excitement and anxieties around leaving a place to start anew from two very different perspectives. We have Rebecca, living in a small town and anxious to escape to college, and Amelia, who has just finished her college degree in NYC and is thinking of switching careers and becoming an actress. Both girls are held back (to some extent) by a boyfriend, both girls are on the verge of something new, but unlike Amelia- whose life is cut short- Rebecca has doubts that manifest into severe anxiety.
The book is also about belonging and otherness. A community will accept small sins or look the other way when the questionable behaviour belongs to one of their own, but outsiders never really rise above suspicion. In Amelia’s story line, her desire to break from her path (get married to a businessman and have babies) and try something different (acting) is seen as “other.” Rosenfield has some pretty heavy and interesting things to say about women’s choices and how people try to shape them. This was unexpected but welcome subtext, which makes for engaging, thought provoking literary YA fiction. Fans of Imaginary Girls, The Miseducation of Cameron Post or Mister Death’s Blue Eyed Girls will appreciate Rosenfield’s grasp of language and her skill at conjuring atmosphere.
Amelia Anne is Dead and Gone is available now in hardcover from Penguin Books Canada.