Set in a New England prep school, The Year of the Gadfly takes the reader into the very halls and dungeons of a school that prides itself on its honor code, yet seemingly maintains a studied ignorance of a secret society that has thrived for years and now threatens its placid halls.
Enter Iris Dupont, budding journalist who carries the baggage of a recent loss. Into the world of Nye, Massachusetts and the Mariana Academy, she comes wearing her hopes and dreams on her sleeve, even as she presents with a pseudo-sophistication combined with a fierce desire to fit in. Never mind the presence of her secret mentor, Edward R. Murrow, who speaks to her on a regular basis.
Science teacher Jonah Kaplan, who has a Ph.D., but prefers the title “Mr.,” seemingly stands out in the crowd as Iris surveys her new domain, and she feels oddly connected to him.
What will unfold between these two as the story reveals itself? How will the past students at the academy insert themselves into the present day and resurrect some of the worst happenings of the school’s history?
Narrated alternately by Iris, in first person; Lily, a previous student afflicted with albinism, and in whose home Iris now resides; and Jonah, also in first person voice, the tale flips between the past and the present, and introduces other characters, like Hazel, whose past connection to Jonah and his deceased twin Justin, as well as Lily, we slowly come to understand. And we clearly begin to realize how the past has informed the present.
The slow and unyielding revelations of past betrayals, horrific secrets, and cruel manipulations kept me turning these pages, even as I despised almost every character. But then again, like real humans, vulnerable and flawed, they each gave us a piece of the story that would have been incomplete without them.
I like this passage in Lily’s voice, as she recalls Justin:
“A butterfly was the first insect he’d ever preserved and, according to his mother, a coming-of-age milestone on par with his bar mitzvah. Lily hated the term “coming of age” and its suggestion of menstrual cycles. But in this case, Mrs. Kaplan was right. The moment you killed something—a living creature or a false hope—was the moment you came of age. Loss of innocence wasn’t a passive experience that happened to you. It was something you gave up.”
The themes and characters were totally engaging. This story stands out from the usual prep school tale in its depth and its unerring diligence at piercing through the facades and showing the truth, no matter how unpalatable. And the ending left me with a feeling of hope. Five stars.