Single mother Kate Baron tries to balance her career as a corporate lawyer with her commitment to her teenage daughter, Amelia. She feels fairly successful until Amelia gets into trouble at her school, and Kate is forced to dig deeper into Amelia’s life and realize how little she actually knows about her daughter. With the help of her few loyal friends and a caring police detective Kate struggles to “reconstruct Amelia” and make sense of her brief and troubled life. When Amelia is invited to join a secret club at her school, she has to decide between loyalty to her longtime best friend and the siren song of fitting in with the popular crowd at all costs. Falling in love with one of her club mates further complicates Amelia’s choice between telling the truth and living a lie.
As a high school teacher-librarian and the father of young children, this book makes me fearful of the world my students inhabit and my children inherit. Having recently read the Atlantic’s November 2014 cover article “Why Kids Sext,” I can attest that the peer pressure and cyber-bullying depicted in Reconstructing Amelia are frighteningly real. With perspective shifts between Kate and Amelia, McCreight teases out the mystery of Amelia’s last few months by relating her story in bits and pieces. Over time we hear both mother and daughter’s perspectives on the same series of events. With the narrative structure and (NYC) settings, the book borrows heavily from television police procedurals like Law and Order. This makes for a compelling page turner, but the bleakness of the story casts a pall on the easy effort. Michelle, a friend and fellow librarian, captured this perfectly in her Goodreads review: “I kept waiting for the beautiful payoff that would touch my soul, but in the end I just felt dirty for having read it and learning all these awful people’s secrets.” Reconstructing Amelia forces us to enter the painful secret world of adolescent girls, unfortunately it fails to really reward our efforts.