Review: The Year of the Gadfly

I think I’m happy that I went to public high school.  Adolescence is lonely and stressful enough without the added isolation and expectations that boarding schools seem to impose, if fiction is to be believed on the matter.  Jennifer Miller’s The Year of The Gadfly uses those heightened emotions to tell a compelling story.

Stories set in high school are about how this time shapes people as it’s happening or how people have changed after those crucial years.  Miller tells a little bit of both by splitting her narrative across three characters and two time frames.  Her characters all are intricately bound to her fictional academy and the secret societies and plain cliques that animate it.  As usual in a boarding school drama, these are all boiled down to their pure and symbol-laden essence.  On the surface a hidden group of students is enforcing the school’s honor code to the letter through unorthodox and painful means.  Underneath adolescent passions and pressures are clashing operatically and symbolically.

Martin handles her timelines and character perspectives deftly.  Each character sits at a different point in their development and in the development of the events that ensnare them, as well as representing a distinct point of view.  The result is a look at the nominal plot and the symbolic coming-of-age drama from multiple perspective.  Miller creates a nice hologram of adolescence through prose.

It’s also a gripping read.  The plot moves along snappily, and even as the mystery begins to resolve itself, there are twists that engage the reader.  If you’re not one for prose holograms of the adolescent experience, there’s a fun ghost story/mystery here with diverting characters in the mix.  And also cameos by the ghost of Edward R. Murrow.


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