“Reconstructing Amelia” is a disturbing novel that illustrates the power of texting and the Internet in teenagers’ lives.
Amelia is a 10th-grader at a private co-ed high school, Grace Hall, outside New York City. She lives with her mother, Kate, a lawyer who works long hours at a successful litigation firm. Amelia has never known her father.
When she was younger, she had a nanny, but now she fends for herself when her mom works late into the night at work.
Kate is in the middle of a big case when she gets a call from the school to come and pick Amelia up because she has been suspended for three days. The school wouldn’t divulge any of the details of her suspension over the phone. Kate doesn’t get to the school as soon as she promised, and when she does, she finds fire trucks at the building.
Kate learns that Amelia had fallen from the roof of one of the buildings and died.
There is no sign of a struggle on the roof; nor are there any witnesses. During the investigation, a detective checks Amelia’s computer and phone. Nine days later, her death is ruled a suicide.
The police think Amelia’s suspension caused her to kill herself. Kate takes several weeks off from work and when she returns, she gets an anonymous text message that says, “Amelia didn’t jump.” Kate calls the detective who investigated the case and isn’t happy with his answers. Her boss talks to a higher-up in the police department, and another detective is assigned to the case.
Then Kate gets another text that says, “Amelia didn’t jump. You know it and I know it. “ Kate decides to do some investigating on her own and finds out that Amelia’s phone and computer are password protected so the first detective couldn’t have searched through Amelia’s computer.
While looking for clues, Kate’s friend Seth comes over and finds 22 handwritten notes, each written by a different person, in Amelia’s desk drawer. All of them say, “I hate you.” Now, Kate knows that there is much more to Amelia’s death and sets about reconstructing the events leading to Amelia’s death.
Amelia was an excellent student and had one close friend, Sylvia.
They are nothing alike, and Sylvia is the more daring. They promised each other that if either of were asked to join a club, neither would join unless both are asked.
One of the most popular clubs is Magpies, a girls club. Amelia is asked to join, along with two other 10th-graders.
They are told that there are more popular girls, but that the more popular girls are boring. If the new girls pledge the Magpies, they can’t leave the club without enduring negative consequences.
Amelia joins without telling Sylvia. From the start, the club asks Amelia to do things that she would never otherwise have done.
The club isn’t good for her but she doesn’t seem to know it.
And her mother doesn’t learn about it until it’s too late.
McCreight writes a chilling account of a teenager who is drawn into the wrong crowd. Kate had no idea Amelia had joined a club or what was going on in her daughter’s life.
The story reminds parents that they might not know as much about their teen-age children’s lives as they think they do – or need to know. The author, who worked for a while in one of New York City’s biggest law firms and has written a number of essays, was named one of Entertainment Weekly’s “13 to Watch in 2013.”
Maggie Braun is a teacher at Manhattan High School and a Manhattan resident.