These four books were a delightful treat and reading them all back to back was so much fun. Feeling Sorry for Celia, The Year of Secret Assignments, The Murder of Bindy Mackenzie, and The Ghosts of Ashbury High make up a quartet of books by Australian author Jaclyn Moriarty that cover four years of school at Ashbury High with some characters from the neighboring Brookfield High playing important roles as well.
Feeling Sorry for Celia
This is an epistolary book consisting of letters from Year 9 student Elizabeth Clarry of Ashbury High to her pen pal at Brookfield High. There is an English teacher who believes this project will teach students the Joy of the Envelope and diminish the distrust and bad feelings between the two schools, one private and one public. There are also notes Elizabeth exchanges with her mother included to round out the story. Elizabeth is a great character to follow as she is an average girl, but has a distinct enough personality to make her more that a projection of the reader. Her developing relationship with Christina, the student from Brookfield, is interesting. Both girls are struggling with typical but very different teenage problems and the bond that forms between the two of them as the confess to and advise each other is strong. There is guy trouble, friend trouble, family trouble-all of it rendered in amusing and emotive ways.
The Year of Secret Assignments
This one follows a different group of students in the same year as Elizabeth (who is mentioned and makes a cameo). Lydia, Emily and Cassie have been friends since Primary school. Now in Year 10 they are participating in the second year of the famous Ashbury/Brookfield pen pal project. Each girl gets a different boy from Brookfield to correspond with. Lydia is writing to Seb-an artist and soccer fanatic. Emily is writing to Charlie-a car thief looking for advice about girls. Cassie is writing to Matthew-a mean mean boy. The letters flying back and forth cover the whole year and focus on the friendship between the girls and their blossoming romances. There are some deeper issues explored in this book but it still manages to keep the light tone. Some of the hijinks the characters get up to are borderline absurd, but that is part of what makes them fun.
The Murder of Bindy of Mackenzie
This is my favorite one. It was also the most uncomfortable for me to read, and will be for anyone who has tendencies toward introverted over achieving perfectionism. Bindy is certainly an over the top version of the type, but Moriarty pretty much nailed the insecurities and massive fear of failure we of the type carry with us. The format of this book comes from Bindy's journal entries, memos and emails to and from people, and the running transcript she keeps on her laptop of her life. What I loved best about this one is that it is a crime novel. Clues are dropped throughout the story, the plot builds toward the climatic moment when we know who the culprit is, the reveal is done in typical crime novel fashion. The difference here is instead of looking back, using clues discovered post crime, the reader is watching the crime unfold in present tense. It is brilliant how Moriarty played with the narrative and structure of the plot to pull that off.
The Ghosts of Ashbury High
I was almost afraid to pick this one up, especially after liking the previous one so much, thinking it might just really end up being a ghost story. I did read it though because by this point Moriarty had won my trust, and she didn't let me down. This book is told through essays the characters are writing for their High School Certificate. They have to tell of a real life incident from their own life using elements of gothic literature. The result is that none of the narrators are terribly reliable and as the reader you have to sift through all the narratives to figure out what is going on. This book introduces two new characters to the series, Amelia and Riley, but also has viewpoints from previous characters as well. Again, the way the clues and all the narrative threads come together in the end is impressive but I was halfway through the book before any of the characters made an impression on me, even Emily and Lydia who I was quite familiar with from book two.
I highly recommend this series to anyone looking for contemporary fiction that is light but realistic at the same time.