Have you ever been in a room full of people and still felt so alone in the world? That’s actually how I felt when I first started reading Jennifer Miller’s The Year of the Gadfly. I felt like an awkward stranger at a party where I didn’t know anyone and didn’t know what was going on. Thankfully, when reading, that’s often a sure sign that you’ve picked up a good engrossing novel. And that would prove true here as I dove deeper into The Year of the Gadfly.
Miller weaves a story with a grapevine of characters who each have their own spider web of mystery and intrigue. We begin by meeting Iris Dupont, a teenage journalist who is about to attend Mariana Academy. She’s haunted by the suicide of her best friend and by the ghost of broadcast journalist Edward Murrow. There’s her science teacher Jonah Kaplan, haunted by his own school days at Mariana and by the death of his twin brother. Jonah’s love interest is Hazel, also an alumna, and the caretaker of the town’s Historical Society. She persuades Iris to investigate an underground society at Mariana known as Prisom’s Party who publishes an underground newspaper called The Devil’s Advocate, determined to expose the ugly truths that haunt the halls of Mariana.
Those truths involve two key players who are never revealed in first person in the book, but instead their stories are told through Jonah, Hazel, and Iris. They are Jonah’s brother, Justin, an eager over achiever when it comes to knowledge bowls and entomology. And there’s Justin’s love interest, Lily, a shy and awkward albino girl tormented by the teen girl cliques at school. In the spirit of other classic prep school novels such as Donna Tartt’s “The Secret History,” a complex and multilayered story of love, betrayal, secret societies, and social teen awkwardness unfolds.
Miller does not spoon feed the reader the plot either. Mysteries and clues slowly reveal themselves amongst a multitude of intellectual vocabulary, classic literature, microbiological references, and high school moments that will make you both miss and shudder at your own glory days. Those who love language will prosper here! While reading this book, like my own English or art classes that molded and shaped who I am today, I savored every moment.