Have you ever read (and enjoyed) a book that pushes you beyond your comfort zone as a reader? It can be something small – book that skips back and forth in time periods, or even narrators, or it can be huge – it could both skip ahead and back in time and change narrators, like The Year of the Gadfly by Jennifer Miller. It’s a difficult balance for books that test our boundaries or comfort zones as readers – too much and we can’t stand it, too little and we see an incomplete piece, but Ms. Miller’s book has an excellent balance that uses the provocation to endear the reader to the work. I thoroughly enjoyed reading The Year of the Gadfly because it provoked me as a reader, enthralled my imagination by keeping me guessing, and reminded me of my youth.
The Year of the Gadfly by Jennifer Miller is essentially set in two different times – present day and twelve years ago. It’s also a story that is told by 3 different characters as well – one in the past, one in the present who constantly reminisces about the past, and one in the present attempting to discover the past. When I started reading, I wasn’t comfortable with the jumping. I tend to a have a difficult time keeping my own days straight, it was a little chafing to keep the story straight, and I was worried that I would need to take notes to be able to keep all the jumping under control in my mind. As I devoured the pages though, I found that it wasn’t difficult at all to keep the instances straight. The story was told in a way that I was viewing most of all the sides, in the way a soap opera or telenovela will show you what each group of conspiring characters is doing at the same time. Although it provoked my sense of order, the narration and time settings enhanced the story and not detracting from it.
If there is one characteristic that I would bet would be my downfall, I would say that it is my pride in my mental capacity, a “smugness about the fact that [I am] smarter than most everybody else” as Susan Elizabeth Phillips phrased it in Nobody’s Baby But Mine (p. 213 – her description always sticks with me, so I had to share it). I can usually figure out the mystery before the characters in a book do, so it’s always surprising to me when I didn’t see something coming, and in The Year of the Gadfly, I most definitely did not see the ending coming. There are essentially 2 mysteries that are being solved in the novel, and I was equally surprised by both of them. To save my dignity, I will say that I had 1 of the culprits pegged correctly, though for the wrong mystery. I was enthralled by the mysteries within this work, pleased not to have solved them prematurely, and I think that others will appreciate the hunt of it all as well.
There are not many books that come as close to my own high school experience as this one, because I wasn’t one of the standard students. I attended a residential public high school for gifted and talented students in Indiana (Indiana Academy at Ball State University, if you’re interested). While there were some very large differences – such as being residential and not having the students in charge, there was enough the same that it was a book I could relate to personally. At the same time, it’s not to say that anyone who didn’t attend such a school would not relate to the work, it’s just slightly easier for me to imagine what some of the scenarios described. I think sometimes I look for comparative bits more, so someone attending a regular school may not even notice the similarities I picked up. The Year of the Gadfly appealed to me because it reminded me of my youth, but not in a way that would exclude others who did not have the same experiences.
Summer is always a good time for reading, whether it’s an e-book or a regular book. It’s almost a way to take a little vacation, or even a great thing to do on vacation, and I would definitely recommend The Year of the Gadfly for summer reading. It’s thought-provoking and imagination-inspiring, but it can also be picked up over several weeks – it’s not one that you have to read straight through or else you won’t understand it. It’s light enough that you don’t need to put on your thinking cap before you read it, so I think it’s a great escape read. Reminiscing about high school, having your imagination challenged and testing the boundaries of your comfort zone as a reader make The Year of the Gadfly an excellent read – expect this one to go far.
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Disclosure: I received this book for free from the publisher to facilitate my review. My opinions are honest and my own.
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