Amelia Anne Is Dead and Gone by Kat Rosenfeld
Speak, 2013, 288 pages
I was lured into this book by its absolutely stunning cover. Gritty and ethereal, I thought the artwork would reflect the inner contents. I stand by judging a book by its cover — it actually and typically is a fairly good gauge when it comes to all kinds of information about a book — but, overall, in this case I was wrong. Amelia Anne is Dead and Gone by Kat Rosenfeld has quite a bit going for it in the prose department, but fails to present an engaging plot or character.
When an unidentified college-aged woman is found dead in new high school graduate Becca’s hometown, there’s no knowing who could have killed her. The close-knit town, despite its efforts, doesn’t seem interested enough in this mysterious murder and, with college approaching and the days with her on-again-off-again boyfriend numbered, Becca can’t help but turn her attention to the outward violence that has cast a shadow on her vacation town. As her obsession grows, readers are introduced to the unidentified woman: Amelia Anne. In a tumultuous relationship of her own, Amelia Anne is caught between a new love (theatre) and an old (her boyfriend).
In recent years, I’ve come to appreciate literary fiction more and more. It’s a hard thing to do and relies on character development over plot. I’d argue it’s especially less common in young adult fiction than it is in adult fiction. The likelihood, then, of finding a well-written work of young adult literary fiction is slim. Going into Amelia Anne Is Dead and Gone, I didn’t necessarily know I was getting into something more character-driven. It occurred to me, by the end, that was exactly what I had done. It didn’t sit well with me.
There’s a lot of transformative power in death, regardless of how close the person who has passed is to the central individual. With Amelia Anne Is Dead and Gone, the thematic weight of everything in transition in Becca’s life is heavy and made heavier by the presence of a dead girl. Coming to terms with graduation, a breakup, a loss of innocence, the verge of adulthood is all part of the traditional Bildungsroman. There’s the expectation that any Bildungsroman will have at least some literary fiction element as the primary focus is on the internal changes of the character from girl to woman, from boy to man, from child to adult. The problem with Amelia Anne Is Dead and Gone is more that I didn’t get the sense Becca had really changed. She’d spent months being obsessed and accusatory and introspective, but she hadn’t grown up. She was not now entering the final weeks of her summer as more worldly: she was just traumatized.
And with good reason. The most interesting part of the novel is the twist. I don’t feel it’s handled particularly well and it feels so out of place in this book, but there’s something chilling-but-commonplace about the twist that really grounds the rest of the book, which is already so far grounded in reality so as to make it almost boring. The twist grounds the book with a swivel of the heel into the dirt while the rest of the day-to-day content drops a shapely rock onto the earth’s surface. The tension — and the way I looked at humanity and people for a brief moment — was shifted into something not extraordinary, but certainly odd.
This heightened the interest in one character who did not get the page time they deserved, honestly. Pages were allocated for other characters who were uninteresting and clearly placed as intentions to distract the reader from the reality of things. This wasn’t necessary, though — the reader doesn’t have enough clues to piece together what really happened to Amelia Anne until it’s revealed. There are parallels that suggest things throughout and you find yourself thinking, “Oh yes, I see how this happened.” And you’re probably right, to some extent — but I can almost guarantee you haven’t figured the whole thing out, even if you’ve trained yourself to ignore the superfluous characters and their explosive violence.
This book is, by the way, explosively violent. It’s unsettling in some passages and, while it’s not a gore-fest, it’s not for those who like pretty depictions left and right. In any event, I finished Amelia Anne decidedly unsatisfied. The effort didn’t pay off, despite the promises I felt Rosenfeld was making. She’s lauded for her poetic ability throughout reviews for Amelia Anne but without enough direction, the book doesn’t amount to much.
❤❤💔 out of ❤❤❤❤❤