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Epistolary Novel

The Year of Secret Assignments, by Jaclyn Moriarty

May 2, 2010

yosaI’ll admit that at first The Year of Secret Assignments by Jaclyn Moriarty appears similar to every other book out there for teenage girls:  a close-knit group of friends, a sarcastic narrative voice, and, of course, dream-boat boys who are nowhere near reality. But through her characters’ odd yet amusing quirks—such as hijacking teachers’ cars, molding chocolate into various means of transportation, and writing gruesome children’s books—Moriarty manages to give the novel originality, something lots of authors seem to lack nowadays.

The plot begins with a pen-pal exchange between two rival schools:  Brookfield High and Ashbury Academy.  The three friends—Emily, a future lawyer with a serious chocolate obsession, Lydia, a sarcastic daredevil, and Cassie, a shy singer—are paired up with three boys from Brookfield:  Charlie, a sweet guy with a knack for taking cars for joy rides, Sebastian, a charming troublemaker who has a sensitive artistic side, which is typical but still very cute, and Matthew, a mysterious and possibly crazy trumpeter.

After a rocky start, Emily helps Charlie charm the girl of his dreams, and it doesn’t take a genius to figure out what Moriarty is leading up to.  At the same, Seb and Lyd dare each other to complete hilarious and sometimes illegal pranks. Meanwhile, Cassie pours out her thoughts about her father’s untimely death, something she has never done before, to Matthew, who responds in violent and disturbing notes that made me wonder about his motives.

This is a modern-day epistolary novel, told through letters, journal entries, emails, transcripts, and spy reports.  I loved this.  It gave me a chance to hear all the characters’ voices, including those of supporting players.  This was definitely not a mistake, since they all had big personalities.  Moriarty brings to life a cast who is not only hilarious but also sweet, engaging, and genuinely smart.  Moriarty provides honest insights into friendship, family, and adolescence while making the reader laugh, something I loved.

Moriarty’s style of quirky and slightly random humor isn’t limited to The Year of Secret Assignments.  Her latest, The Murder of Bindy Mackenzie, which is a companion to The Year of Secret Assignments, and her Feeling Sorry for Celia have the same lighthearted comedy.  The Murder of Bindy Mackenzie is filled with far-fetched but endearing characters that you can’t help but wish you knew, many of whom also appear in The Year of Secret Assignments.

This book has something for everyone: humor, unique but adorable relationships, and lovable characters who are sure to be remembered.  It’s perfect if you’re looking for a realistic book about friendship or just a good laugh.  I reread it again and again and loved it more each time.  It’s the type of book every adolescent secretly wants to live inside of.


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The White Tiger, by Aravind Adiga

May 7, 2009

white-tiger This novel is about Balram, a young man growing up in Bangalore, India, in an impoverished family; his dad is a rickshaw puller. Adiga follows Balram’s life story as he moves his way up in the social world, first becoming a driver for a rich family, and then, through a series of events I cannot reveal, creates his own taxi empire and becomes—in his own eyes a least—one of India’s greatest but least well known entrepreneurs.

I noticed how Adiga makes this book both a novel, and, at the same time, the memoir of a fictional character. Balram relates his life story in letters to the Chinese prime minister, which I found different, as an approach to fiction, but still enjoyable.

Adiga’s visuals, details, and other descriptions are fantastic. Every time I picked up the book, the movie of Balram’s life started playing for me, and it never stopped. The dialogue is also effective; it conveys a lot of the plot and also reveals relationships between characters. For example, Balram is a servant, and the dialogue between him and his “master” truly shows who they are.

The strength of the thoughts and feelings in this novel is amazing. Most of the plot is revealed in flashbacks, so the way Aravind Adiga pulls it together is amazing. The plot structure is unlike that of any other novel I have read. The White Tiger is most definitely a 10 out of ten.


Publisher: Free Press, 276 pages

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