Title: The Ghosts of Ashbury High (US)/ Dreaming of Amelia
Author: Jaclyn Moriarty
Publisher: Arthur A. Levine Books (US) / Macmillan Children’s Books (UK)
Publication Date: June 2010 / April 2010
Paperback:(UK) 400 pages / HC (US): 496 pages
This is the story of Amelia and Riley, bad kids from bad Brookfield High who have transferred to Ashbury High for their final year. They’ve been in love since they were fourteen, they go out dancing every night, and sleep through school all day. And Ashbury can’t get enough of them.
Everyone’s trying to get their attention; even teachers are dressing differently, trying to make their classes more interesting. Everyone wants to be cooler, tougher, funnier, hoping to be invited into their cool, self-contained world.
But they don’t know that all Amelia can think about is her past — an idyllic time before she ran away from home. Riley thinks he’s losing her to the past, maybe even to a place further back in time. He turns to the students of Ashbury for help, and things get much, much worse.
Stand alone or series: It is part of a series of books set at Ashbury High/Brookfield schools but can be read as a stand alone.
How did I get this book: Bought
Why did I read this book: It called to me. Honestly. I had not read any reviews, nor any of this author’s previous books. I saw the cover and the title and IT WAS LIKE DESTINY CALLING MY NAME.
It was a dark and stormy night (when I started reading The Ghosts of Ashbury High). The rain fell torrentially and the trees outside rattled against my window occasionally. The house was silent and I was all alone. The lights in the street were out and I was reading by candlelight (ok, not really, but just go with the flow…). Reader! Hear the truth of my words! I had a strong sense of foreboding and a feeling of impending DOOM right after the first few pages and I felt I could faint at any moment.
And why, do you ask? The ghosts?, were you scared of the ghosts? Yes, Ghosts!!!! I say. I was too scared of the ghosts but no!!!! That sense of impending doom came upon the realisation that this book is INCREDIBLE and that I would have to go and buy Jaclyn Moriarty’s entire backlist, even if that made me bankrupt!! Even if I had to walk the miles to the bookstore in that DARK AND STORMY NIGHT!!!!!!
You know, gothically speaking.
It is the last year of High School for the students at Ashbury High and most of the story takes places during an HSC (High School Certificate in Australia) English exam on the topic of, yes, you guessed right, Gothic Fiction. The students have been asked to write a personal memoir which explores the dynamics of first impressions, drawing on their knowledge of gothic fiction. Thus, the majority of The Ghosts of Ashbury High’s narrative is via that exam question but also with letters, minutes from the school boards’ meetings, IM transcripts, blog entries (another assignment: write about Your Journey Home) interspersed throughout. Most of them alternate between the same four kids’ writings: Riley, Emily, Lydia and Toby and it mostly involves Riley and…Amelia.
“The first time I saw her I knew that my Amelia was a ghost”
Riley and Amelia are new at Ashbury High, a private school for rich and privileged kids, recently transferred from the neighbouring Brookfield public school on scholarships. From the get go Riley and Amelia take over everybody’s imagination with their aloofness, their mysterious comings and goings and their complete, obsessive involvement with each other at the expense of everybody else. Soon, they are excelling at everything: swimming, essay writing, arts. But there is just something not quite right about these two kids…….
I love epistolary novels. I LOVE them, in fact one of my all time favourite books is Wilkie Collins’ The Woman in White. Jaclyn Moriarty made me remember why exactly I love this form of narrative with this excellent novel. Starting with infusing these letters and essays with so much character and voice that it would be easy to recognise which of the characters is writing what even if it wasn’t stated at the beginning of each part. The mysterious, dark Riley; the reliable, deep Toby; the almost serious yet spoiled Lydia; the drama queen Emily.
“It was the first day of Year 12.I had set out that morning with trepidation. I did not, in all honesty, see a crow, a raven, or any other black bird on the way to school that day. And yet! I was trepidatious.”
Those are first impressions dear readers. Because this book is terminally clever: as the kids write their memoirs and starting with their first impressions of Riley and Amelia, we, as readers, are doing the same with the kids. And by the end of the book, none of them are left standing – within the book or within the reader.
It starts very, very light, hilarious even with each of them writing in what they think a Gothic narrative should be (complete with excess of exclamation points!!!!) and because of that, the reader never knows if what we are reading is true or not. Yes, epistolary narrative always has a degree of unreliability because we are wholly dependent on whoever is writing and whether they have chosen to write the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.
Even what a narrator chose to leave out of its narrative is important. And because there are four distinct narrators, a certain degree of truthfulness always end up making its way into the story. Sometimes they narrate the same event even, from such a completely discrepant point of view and yet both have got to be true somehow.
“There was the first time I saw this exam question. It happened just now. (…) my first impression of this question is that it sucks. Nothing has happened so far to change my mind.”
As the story gains momentum and the plot thickens, I could not turn the pages faster. The story is almost like a farce, definitely gothic (ghosts!), a lot of comedy and so much heartbreak and character growth that I don’t even know how or when it happened but all of a sudden I am not reading the book I thought I was reading when I first set out.
This is a story about rich kids, poor kids, how their surroundings influence and the parenting that each has, shaped their present and possibly the future. About the opportunities the State and life give them (or not), and about abuse and about turning a blind eye to abuse and how adults sometimes suck so much (I could sucker punch the school’s principal if I could after a conversation he has with Emily) and how friendship and resilience and smarts can help with changing things.
That is not all. Somehow in the middle of it, Moriarty manages to go all historical as Toby’s narrative is actually him telling a story of an Irish convict who is sent to Australia when it was still a penal colony. Tom Kindaid’s story intermingles with the other narratives and is as interesting as the rest of it all.
“I have just noticed that the exam question asks for a personal memoir. So you want to hear from me – Toby Mazzerati – not some Irish convict dude named Tom Kinkaid who lived here in 1804. Hence, please disregard the above, and I will start my answer now.Thanks for your time”
And also: BLACK HOLES!!!!
And if you think for a moment that all of this is too much, please trust me when I say this. It is not! I can’t stress that enough!!!! With extra exclamation points!!! It is of UTMOST IMPORTANCE that I get this point across!!!!!! All is flawlessly linked and you only realise that in the EXTRAORDINARY ending when every.Single.Plot.Line comes together and my head exploded (gothically speaking) with the sheer brilliance of this book.
It is imaginative, poignant, heart-warming AND heartbreaking. Hilarious too.
It has awesome GIRLS. Who talk to each other about many, many things other than boys. Although boys are involved and for example, the romance between Lydia and Seb which we see happening via Emily’s narrative (because she is a “student of love”), is amazing. But not as amazing as the girls themselves and how smart, talented yet flawed they are and what they will do for each other and how afraid they are of the future because this is what this book is all about: the future and how to get there and how terrifying that moment between the end of your teenage years and the beginning of your adult life is.
Above all though, this is a book about second chances (for everybody. And I do mean, EVERY SOUL) and how without them there is NO future.
I can’t think of a single thing that does not work in this book and I loved it with every bit of my being (brain and heart!) and I re-read it before writing this review and still it managed to evoke this feeling of greatness and warmth and it is awesome and I URGE you to go and read it. Your life may depend on it!!!!! You know, gothically speaking.
Notable Quotes/ Parts:
There was also the first time I saw them. It happened in roll call, the first day of the year.
He had a pair of swimming goggles slung over his shoulder. She
had bloodshot eyes. He sat on the window ledge, facing the room.
She turned and pressed her forehead to the glass to look out.
They were talking to each other.
I remember he called her Ame. Like aim. Like a command. And I
thought that her bloodshot eyes were looking out the window for a
I remember she called him Riley, like his name could not be touched.
They both had wet hair, only hers was brushed back into a long
ponytail. From behind, I could see that the ponytail was leaking:
Thin watershadows formed on her school shirt.
As I watched, he rubbed his hands over his head. He was friendly
and rough with his head, as if it were a dog. Now his hair stood up in
And then something happened.
She reached a hand toward him and he reached his hand toward
her, but his eyes found the eyes of strangers in the room. Their hands
almost touched but did not.
I saw cobwebs in the slender, empty space between those hands.
* * *
Later, at lunch, I told my friends about them.
“There’s two new people,” I said — and a storm rattled the windows
of the room.
I said they’d been together for years. I said they were swimmers. I
said they trained every day, and that swimming was her passion but he
went along just to swim beside her. I said she had a secret that was
breaking his heart.
Everything I said was based on my impression of Amelia and Riley
at the window in the classroom.
But nothing has happened so far to change my mind.
Jaclyn Moriarty has written three other books in The Ashbury/Brookfield series – all of them epistolary novels, be still my heart:
The first (which I already read and it is GREAT too) is:
Life is pretty complicated for Elizabeth Clarry. Her best friend Celia keeps disappearing, her absent father suddenly reappears, and her communication with her mother consists entirely of wacky notes left on the fridge. On top of everything else, because her English teacher wants to rekindle the “Joy of the Envelope,” a Complete and Utter Stranger knows more about Elizabeth than anyone else.
But Elizabeth is on the verge of some major changes. She may lose her best friend, find a wonderful new friend, kiss the sexiest guy alive, and run in a marathon. So much can happen in the time it takes to write a letter…
The second one, also has different titles in the US and UK/Australia
When Lydia, Emily, and Cassie are assigned pen pals among the thugs at Brookfield High, they respond in characteristic style:
Cassie: “I always think it’s funny when a teacher tries to be cool. I want to sit them down and say ‘It’s okay, you’re a grown-up, you’re allowed to be a nerd,’ and they will look up at me confused but also relieved and teary-eyed.”
Lydia: “I am a fish. You wouldn’t think so to look at me, what with my uniform and the hair on top of my head and all that. But it’s true. I am a fish.”
Emily: “Don’t get me started about chocolate! My nickname might be ‘Em,’ but sometimes it’s also Toblerone! I think this is an angiogram of Thompson, which is my last name.”
And their pen-pals? Sebastian is an artist, a black belt in Tae Kwan Do, and a major hottie. Charlie is utterly gullible, a car expert/occasional thief, and a really sweet guy. But Matthew is…well, he’s either a psychopath or a figment of Cassie’s imagination, neither of which is a good sign. And what starts out as a simple letter exchange leads to secret assignments, false alarms, lock picking, legal drama, mistaken identities, Dates with Girls, and all-out war between the schools . . . the biggest challenge Lydia, Cass, and Emily’s friendship has ever faced.
And the third:
Bindy Mackenzie is the most perfect girl at Ashbury High. She scores in the 99.9th percentile in all her classes. She holds lunchtime advisory sessions for her fellow students. She keeps careful transcripts of everything said around her. And she has been Kmart casual Employee of the Month for seventeen months straight.
No wonder somebody wants to kill her.
Bindy is horrified to learn she must take part in the Friendship And Development Project – a new class meant to provide a “life raft” through “the tricky seas of adolescence.” Bindy can’t see how airheaded Emily Thompson, absentminded Elizabeth Clarry, mouthy Toby Mazzerati, malicious Astrid Bexonville, silent Briony Atkins, narcissistic Sergio Saba and handsome, enigmatic Finnegon Blonde could ever possibly help her.
(Well, maybe Finnegan could.)
But then Bindy’s perfect life begins to fall apart. She develops an obsession with the word “Cincinnati.” She can’t stop feeling sleepy. She fails an exam for the first time ever. And – worst of all – she just doesn’t care.
What could be the cause of all these strange events? Is it conspiracy? Is it madness? Is it . . . murder?
Lots of people hate Bindy Mackenzie – but who would actually kill her? The answer is in Bindy’s transcripts. The detectives are the members of her FAD group. But Bindy has made every one of them into an enemy . . . and time is running out.
I shall read them all and review them soon.
What about you: are you a fan of her books? Which one is your favourite. And WHY DID YOU NOT TELL ME ABOUT HER BOOKS BEFORE?
Verdict: The Ghosts of Ashbury High is stupendous. Engaging, clever narrative and with the amazing characters. The plot itself doesn’t let go and the ending is….perfect. Straight into my top 10 of 2010 it goes.
Rating: 10. TEN!!! It is as perfect as only an Ana-Book could ever be.
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