One of my favorite genres (though not an “official” literary genre) is the prep school story. I loved A Separate Peace, the Harry Potter series, and the novel Prep by Curtis Sittenfeld. I’m also a fan of prep school movies and I know I’m not alone. I challenge you to find a thirty-something Jewish woman who, in the early 90s, did not see the movie School Ties starring Brenden Fraser at least ten times. And with the rest of our teen brethren we also rented Dead’s Poet Society and Toy Soldiers more than once.
There’s something mysterious and exciting about this idea of a world where the only adults around seem to be very evil teachers or extremely special and understanding ones. Perhaps what attracted me to The Year of the Gadfly from the get-go was knowing (from interviews with author Jennifer Miller in the media) that this particular spin on the prep school world was influenced by the author’s own high school school experience of feeling like an outsider and also dealing with the death of her boyfriend. Miller has also revealed in interviews that her brother’s experience of uncovering a cheating scandal during high school and the fallout he endured as a result influenced part of Gadfly as well.
Although set at the exclusive Mariana Academy, The Year of Gadfly is not considered a young adult novel. The themes and situations are perhaps too dark for that label, and several of the important characters, who also take turns telling the story, are adults. The story is set around Iris, who is new to the school and quickly becomes obsessed with uncovering Mariana Academy’s secret student society. There are numerous layers to the plot and aspects of mystery and thriller to the story, too. I can’t say more about the plot or the aforementioned “thrilling” elements would be thrilling no more.
The last and maybe more important thing I want to say about Gadfly is that I found Iris’s voice and insights both compelling and endearing. Iris thinks at one important section of the story, “What was I doing here? If being on the inside meant I was trapped, I didn’t want any part of it.” I related to Iris’s feeling immediately–that (sometimes) desire to be accepted by everyone to the detriment of my sense of individual freedom. I felt that way when I, like Iris, was fourteen. I still feel it sometimes as an adult.
Also worth noting: Jennifer Miller is determined to set the record for the most book clubs visited by an author in one month with a goal of 100 books clubs discussing Gadfly in July.
And lucky for our Great New Books readers, one of you will win a copy of The Year of Gadfly simply by leaving a comment below to say that you’re interested. We’ll choose a winner and announce it here on Sunday, June 16.