Class salutatorian Becca Williams has spent the past five years of her life dreaming up ways of escaping the small New England town of Bridgeton for good. But when, on the night of her high school graduation, Becca’s boyfriend dumps her and then the battered and beaten dead body of recent college graduate Amelia Anne Richardson is found on the side of the road, Becca’s life is sent into a spin. Through a narrative that switches back and forth between Becca’s summer in Bridgeton and the final days of Amelia’s life, we come to realise that Becca’s life isn’t all that far removed from that of the dead girl.
Amelia Anne is Dead and Gone is really about two girls at crossroads in their lives who are trying to decide who they really are and what they want to do next. Becca is seen by those around her as going places, but she is scared to leave the safety of her small town and of her relationship with James, her high school drop-out boyfriend. Amelia, on the other hand, is seen by her boyfriend, Luke, as another accessory for his future life as a yuppie businessman, but dreams of following her heart to a career as an actress. Each of the two girls must decide which path she is going to take in her life and whether or not she will leave her boyfriend in order to pursue that path. It’s a coming-of-age story, or more accurately, two coming-of-age stories that run in parallel, and the mystery of Amelia’s murder is merely an afterthought to these stories. Becca does not take on the role of detective, like you would expect in a conventional mystery, and despite the fact that she does ultimately uncover the truth about Amelia’s death, it is by passively stumbling on a vital piece of evidence rather through actively searching for clues.
Kat Rosenfield’s writing style is truly beautiful, reminiscent of that of Jeffrey Eugenides in The Virgin Suicides or Donna Tartt in The Little Friend. Her prose is flowery and mysterious, and I would be quite happy to read just about anything she writes for the rest of her career, even if it is just her shopping list. It is for this reason, I assume, she was nominated for the Edgar award in the first place. Nevertheless, her characters still need a bit of work. Amelia and Becca are not just similar characters, they are the same character, just as James and Luke are identical. I understand that Rosenfield wanted to show the parallels between their stories, but she goes too far, making her characters virtually indistinguishable in places to the point where I had to double check who I was reading about. In addition, Rosenfield spends so much time focussing on her female protagonists and sympathising with their plight that pretty much every male character comes across as a complete jerk. By the end of the book, I felt sorry for any males who happened to be reading the book (presumably very few, since this novel is aimed squarely at girls) because the men came out of it looking so bad.
Still, this is only Rosenfield’s first novel, and if you’re not male and coming-of-age fiction is your thing, it’s worth checking out. Rosenfield’s not quite up to the standard of Eugenides or Tartt yet (ever though her writing style resembles theirs), and I wouldn’t class her as a true mystery writer. However, as a writer of general teen fiction, Kat Rosenfield is definitely one to watch.
Verdict: A mysterious novel, but not a mystery. Yet, Kat Rosenfield’s gorgeous prose mean that Amelia Anne is Dead and Gone stands a good chance at winning at this year’s Edgar awards.