Reconstructing Amelia by Kimberly McCreight

 This book tries too hard. That single thought kept popping up the further I progressed into Reconstructing Amelia. McCreight knows how to write, that’s not the issue; but she is painfully heavy handed with the twists and turns in this curvaceous debut novel.

Amelia is a high school sophomore at an elite private school, and her single-mother, Kate, is a big-shot lawyer who is barely home. Amelia has always been a strong student and a good kid, so Kate is shocked when the school calls to inform her of Amelia’s suspension for cheating. Kate immediately leaves to pick up her daughter, but when she gets there (cue dramatic music) Amelia is dead. Kate refuses to believe that this is a suicide, and embarks on a personal quest to uncover the truth behind Amelia’s death.

What Kate finds is something that no one could have predicted. That’s because Amelia’s life was a combination every existing cliché regarding the perils of high school existence. Amelia was subjected to hazing rituals, bullying, sexual identity issues, a corrupt teacher, a nasty breakup, a fight with her best friend, provocative pictures posted online, questionable paternity, a less-than-present mother, coming out as a lesbian and a potential suicide. I’m surprised she didn’t have an eating disorder and an unplanned pregnancy, but maybe I just missed that page.

Reconstructing Amelia should have been titled After School Special: The Greatest Hits. The evil coven of high school girls are essentially the plastics to the tenth power, and while McCreight’s portrayal is disturbing, it is all so plentiful and stereotypical that it reads more like a parody than a serious consideration of teenage cruelty.

Kate’s perspective isn’t much better. The police lieutenant assigned to the case just stops by the house, and the two investigate the potential homicide together. Kate even tags along to question suspects with this guy. Not that I am an authority on police protocol and procedures for an expected homicide, but it is unlikely that the victim’s mother would be invited along for the ride.

Reconstructing Amelia isn’t a bad book, but it is an unpolished one. By the time Kate realizes the identity of Amelia’s father through a rare genetic syndrome that both share, I felt like I was watching Days of Our Lives. It’s just too much.

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