When I was in high school back in the dark ages of the 1950s, the pranks we played varied from the timeworn to the troublesome, but nobody ever got hurt. For instance, several dozen of us set alarm clocks to go off in our lockers during class time. That was a hoot. But it didn’t match the inventiveness of the prank we visited upon our unpopular school librarian, Mrs. Fanny Bright (yes, that was her name, I kid you not).
During several of the last weeks of the term, up until the day the library was to close for inventory, at least 100 of us steadily checked out as many as possible of the biggest, heaviest books we could locate — and returned them all on the afternoon of the last day the library was open. The scene of pandemonium in the library that afternoon was a delicious treat for our adolescent minds.I should have been expelled for masterminding that incident, but the powers-that-were eventually decided it wouldn’t look good to expel the valedictorian.
Apparently, times have changed over the past half-century and more, if Jennifer Miller‘s hilarious and exceptional novel, The Year of the Gadfly, can be trusted. At the Mariana Academy, the snooty New England prep school at the center of her story, student pranks can be lethal. Whether student or faculty, everyone is fair game for the diabolical tricks that a small clique of pranksters unleashes on the unwary.
The Year of the Gadfly by Jennifer Miller ★★★★☆
The tale revolves around two intriguing characters: Jonah Kaplan, who has just joined the Mariana faculty to teach freshman and sophomore science despite a lingering reputation as the school’s resident hell-raiser during his student days there; and an exceptionally bright 14-year-old girl named Iris Dupont, a would-be journalist whose only friend is the spectral presence of Edward R. Murrow, with whom she engages in impassioned dialogue about truth and journalistic ethics. That is, until Iris develops a passionate attraction to Mr. Kaplan. But this is no hackneyed tale of a teenage crush on an older man. If you pick up this book, prepare yourself for a wild ride: The Year of the Gadfly mashes up a coming-of-age tale with a tragic mystery story with a deft send-up of elite prep schools. It’s one of a kind, and a great pleasure to read.
The Year of the Gadfly is Jennifer Miller’s first novel. She also wrote an award-winning work of nonfiction, Inheriting the Holy Land: An American’s Search for Hope in the Middle East. But just one exceptional novel ought to secure her place as a writer of note.
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