Bethany reviewed this book in 2015 (see her review here), and I remember thinking it seemed like an interesting read. When it turned up on Kindle Unlimited, I added it to my queue, and when I was bored in a pizza parlor alone back in April or so I started reading it. And when I was camping in June I figured I’d read it since I’d already read a few pages. I have intense feelings of ambivalence about The Year of the Gadfly. On the one hand, it was a quick read, and didn’t require me to think a whole lot, and when one is way the hell behind (thanks to a tome called Voyager and a very busy work life) on reading for the year one appreciates these things about books. On the other hand, the characters are sort of caricatures. There’s the angry redhead, and the nerdy little kid with the slightly less nerdy and less little twin brother, and the albino with the requisite sunburn story, and then there’s poor Iris whose only friend (besides the ghost of Edward R. Murrow, of course) killed herself last year. Don’t worry, I’ll back up a bit.
The novel opens with Iris as our narrator, in August of 2012. She has been relocated to Nye, Massachusetts from Boston by her parents at the recommendation of her therapist, Dr. Patrick, after her BFF Dalia kills herself. She is set to start at Mariana Academy, an elite private high school. They are living in the house of the former headmaster, who is friends with Iris’ parents, while he and his wife are out of the country. There is a new biology teacher at the school, Jonah Kaplan, who Iris notices at a welcome back to school event.
We also have a “historical” story line that takes place in 1999-2000 and focuses on Lily, the albino daughter of the headmaster of Mariana, and coincidentally the same headmaster whose house Iris and her family are currently living in. Also coincidentally, Jonah Kaplan’s dead twin brother Justin was Lily’s boyfriend back in 1999-2000. There are just too many coincidences here. I guess double narratives have to rely on a small number of coincidences to justify the conceit of putting them in the same novel, but I don’t know. The more I think about this book the less I think it holds up to scrutiny. I should probably hurry up and finish this post so I don’t get more pissed off all the “coincidences.” And can I just say that it horrifies me a little that 1999 was so long ago that someone who was a high school junior then is able to teach high school (with a PhD, no less) in 2012. And for that matter why in the hell would Jonah Kaplan, who is has a doctorate, and is a minor genius in his field, give up a post-doc at a university to teach high school freshman biology?? There. Rant accomplished.
Iris’ passion is investigative journalism, hence her imaginary friend Edward R. Murrow. She joins the staff of the school paper and is given horrible assignments. Somehow she learns that there is an alleged secret society at Mariana, called Prisom’s Party, named after the founder of the school, supposedly by the founder of the school, over a hundred years ago. Is this like Dumbledore’s Army? It is, if the D.A. engaged in pornographic vandalism and blackmail, which I am pretty sure it didn’t. Turns out, Jonah has a vested interest in Prisom’s Party as well. He holds the group responsible for the death of his brother, and wants to figure out the puzzle of Prisom’s Party. As well as himself, but mostly them. Or mostly him. Things get a bit convoluted as the parallel narratives reach their climaxes, and let’s just say that the poor albino gets her pubic hair dyed black (which I’m shocked Bethany didn’t mention in her post, as is she).
I guess the point I’m trying to make about The Year of the Gadfly is that it’s essentially harmless and superficially enjoyable for those of us who like mystery/suspense/high school angst/parallel narratives. But don’t think too much, or you’ll start getting irritated with the whole thing. Except for Iris. I was really rooting for her the whole time.