Thursday, October 04, 2012

Ashbury High

So here's a weird thing where I've already reviewed the 4th book in this loosely connected series, but not the first three.

Now, I've written about my undying love for Jacyln Moriarty before. In 2010, she topped my list of Unsung YA Authors. When I turned 30, the first book in this series made my list of the 30 Most Influential Books in My Life (so far). It caught my eye when I was shelving books at the library and was the first YA book I had read since I was a teenager (not counting rereads of teen favorites or Potter.) This book is pretty responsible of the monster you know and love today.

Now, when I first read the first two books in this series, I wasn't reviewing everything I've read. The third one, however is a legitimate OUTSTANDING REVIEW. The other two were re-read for my YA lit paper and when I re-read them, I was committed to reviewing everything I read... I could easily get away with not reviewing them BUT. THEY ARE AWESOME SO I WANT TO TELL YOU ABOUT THEM.

Feeling Sorry for Celia Jacyln Moriarty

Elizabeth has problems. Her best friend, Celia, is missing. Her father's moved back to Australia from Canada. To top it all off, the new English teacher wants the Internet Generation to rediscover the JOY OF THE ENVELOPE and is making the students at Ashbury (posh private school) become penpals with students at Brookfield (public school a few blocks away.)

This book is told entirely in letters. Some letters are obvious-- notes between Elizabeth and her Mum, the letters between Elizabeth and her penpal Christina. Some come from not-actual-characters, such as the The Association of Teenagers (which does things like inform Elizabeth that the new zit under her nose is utterly disgusting) and the Best Friends Club (which does things like harp on how much progress Elizabeth is making in finding Celia.)

I loved the hilarity of the notes Elizabeth's Mum writes, always asking her to cook elaborate desserts and come up with slogans for bizarre products (she words at an ad agency.) I loved the slow-building friendship between Elizabeth and Christina and the juxtaposition of their friendship with the deteriorating one Elizabeth has with Celia.

It's been a while since I've last read it, but as I was dipping in to write this review, I ended up rereading large chunks of it. Elizabeth is not a drama queen and when confronted with real drama, she takes it in stride, but she's still very vulnerable. The letter-writing assignment allows her to open up to someone new, something I don't get the sense that she does a lot with Celia, as she tries to keep Celia grounded.

The Year of Secret Assignments Jaclyn Moriarty

So the Ashbury Books are more like companion novels than actual sequels.

It's a new year at Ashbury and three best friends-- Emily, Lydia, and Cassie are subjected to Mr. Botherit's JOY OF THE ENVELOPE and each have three Brookfield Boys (BOYS!) to correspond with over the year.

There are no letters from fake organizations this time. We get the letters from the boys and the notes the girls pass back and forth. We get the legal memos between Emily and her lawyer-parents, transcripts of meetings, pages from Lydia's writing prompt notebook, school notices, and diary entries.

There's the heavier component-- Cassie's dad died last year and things have been hard since then (she's in therapy with her mom and she's not off the deep end, but well, her dad died, that has to completely suck and there will be consequences). To top it off, her Brookfield pen pal is a complete jerk but she keeps writing to him and he just gets worse. (The original Australian title of this one is Finding Cassie Crazy. I like Year of Secret Assignments better.)

Emily and Lydia get very close to their penpals (Charlie and Seb. My oh my how I adore Charlie and Seb) and quickly discover that the boy Cassie's been writing to doesn't exist. MYSTERY!

On the surface, the three girls are your stereotypical rich shallow girl but over the course of the book, you see some depth. Emily's hilarious though, in that she wants to be a big-time lawyer but she's not that smart. She uses lots of big words, but always uses the wrong ones. There's some great romance going on and Elizabeth and Christina make small appearances.

This is the most light-hearted and funniest of the bunch.

The Murder Of Bindy Mackenzie Jacyln Moriarty

No more JOY OF THE ENVELOPE. Readers may remember Bindy's amazing typing skills from the dramatic climax of Year of Secret Assignments. So this one is mostly told in Bindy's journals and transcripts that she keeps of the conversations she overhears around her.

Poor Bindy. Bindy's incredibly smart and gifted, but annoying and unpopular. It's not hard to see why no one really likes her. Think Hermione before the bathroom troll incident. And then multiply it by 5. That's Bindy. But that's ok, because Bindy doesn't have a high opinion of her peers either.

This year, Ashbury's developed an experimental course called Friendship and Development. All the students are placed in small groups that meet for an hour a week with a facilitator to talk about their feelings and offer support. (Emily and Elizabeth are in Bindy's group.)

Something weird is going on though, Bindy's sleepy all the time. She's become careless and is losing her edge. She feels sort of ill. She can't sleep. She's hallucinating. Is someone trying to kill her?

As unlikeable as she was, Bindy broke my heart. Her parents have moved away and so Bindy's living with her aunt. Bindy doesn't understand why people don't see the world she does and finds her classmates rather bewildering. Friendship and Development is actually good for her in helping her understand other people.

And she's just... unraveling. Something's going on and it looks like Bindy might be going crazy. Or someone really is trying to kill her.

The original Australian title is Becoming Bindy MacKenzie which is much more fitting (if not as grabbing.)

It's a wonderful character study, even if the it did not end up going where I thought it was going to go. Bindy's a wonderful person.

It was also great to see a lot more of Emily and Elizabeth, but through Bindy's eyes.

The fourth book in the series is The Ghosts of Ashbury High, which I reviewed here.

Books Provided by... my wallet, ultimately. I originally read Feeling Sorry for Celia and Year of Secret Assignment from the library, but then went out and bought them, because I like them THAT MUCH.

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