Title: The Ghosts of Ashbury High (US)/ Dreaming of Amelia

Author: Jaclyn Moriarty

Genre: YA/Contemporary

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.

Review:

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

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.”

Emily

BUT!!!!!

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.

BUT!!!!!

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.”

Lydia

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.

BUT!!!!

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”

Toby

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.

PLUS!!!!

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
target.

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
spikes.

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.

Additional Thoughts

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:

The Motive
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.

The Suspects
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.)

The Crime
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?

The Truth
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.

Reading Next: My Most Excellent Year by Steve Kluger

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34 Responses to Book Review: The Ghosts of Ashbury High (or Dreaming of Amelia) by Jaclyn Moriarty

  1. Audrey says:

    wow… a 10? this is a must-read for me then, plus another blogger (with great taste) recommended it too. great review!

  2. Megan says:

    Oh wow, this is too bizarre! I read and loved Feeling Sorry For Celia back when I was in high school and I loved it, and only yesterday I was thinking about it and how much I had loved it. Then I’m reading this review (the author’s name rang no bells) and suddenly, bam! Feeling Sorry For Celia. Clearly the universe is giving me a hint…

  3. Megan says:

    One more quick question. Now that I obviously have to go and purchase these books post haste, (excepting Celia which I know I still have around here somewhere) do you think I need to read them in order or is that not necessary?

    (Also, I would recommend another book, ‘Guitar Highway Rose’ by Brigid Lowry which I remember loving with as much intensity as Feeling Sorry For Celia and had much in common with its quirky awesomeness)

  4. Karen says:

    YES! I love Jaclyn Moriarty – I don’t think the other two quite reach the level of awesomeness that is Feeling Sorry for Celia, but I did love them. And I somehow missed that she had a new book out, so THANK YOU for reviewing this!

    Everyone, she is not even kidding. These books are wonderful and clever and funny and you so should read them!

  5. 10?!?!? Dude, what an awesome review! :D

    As you know (Bob), I loved FEELING SORRY FOR CELIA and will be reading all of Jaclyn’s books. Huzzah!

    Kaz
    <3

  6. KarenS says:

    This book has been on my radar, but I decided not to buy it when I saw it in the store last month. After reading a couple of your tweets about it over the weekend, I ordered it. Now that I’ve read your review, I really wish I had it in my hands now!

  7. Holly says:

    I’ve already been thinking about buying this. Today is the the day, then!

  8. Mary Claire says:

    I’m from the US, and when this book came out in Australia, I had it shipped over because I LOVE Jaclyn Moriarty. I first read The Year of Secret Assignments probably 5 or 6 years ago, and since I’ve read everything else that she’s written (ahem…multiple times all). I think Dreaming of Amelia is my favorite.

    @Megan, you don’t have to read them in order, but I would recommend reading Secret Assignments before Amelia and Bindy McKenzie because it gives you an introduction to all of the characters. But they are all more companion novels than serial so in the end, it doesn’t really matter.

  9. Kat says:

    One of my favourite authors ever, and a beautitful, beautiful book. Ever YA lover should read Jaclyn Moriarty – she’s totally underrated and under-raved-about!

  10. Myrrhine says:

    I LOVED The Year of Secret Assignments. In fact, I just reread it over the weekend. I’ve already read the other books, but I didn’t realize there was a new one. Thank you!!

  11. Mollie says:

    Wow a 10! I’ll be sure to check this one out! Ohhh I hope you like My Most Excellent Year. I recently read it and LOVED it. One of my all time favorite YAs!

  12. cories says:

    My favorite of the three previous books in the series is “The Murder of Bindy Mackenzie” although “The Year of Secret Assignments” is a close second. I did read them in sequence so by the time I read the third, I was really looking forward to reading more about Bindy. I loved that girl!

  13. oh wow. When I saw this book I thought it looked really lame and I would be immediately skipping it so I’m glad to see you enjoyed it so much! Now I will try to get it at some point in the future so I can read it. (and I’ll really try not to judge books by their covers. :)

  14. Misha Mathew says:

    I haven’t had the chance to read Jaclyn Moriarty yet. It has been on my wishlist for a while now! Thanks for the review!

    Misha

  15. I’m glad you liked this book. I loved it so much also! However!!! I haven’t read any of her other books so I have to restore myself by getting them all!

  16. Chachic says:

    Wow, a 10? This book is already on my wishlist but it looks like I should grab it as soon as I can.

  17. Amy C says:

    I love me some Jaclyn Moriarty :) Her books are truly amazing and witty and I’m ecstatic to see a Smuggler enjoying her books as well! I’m just sad that Ghosts of Ashbury High is the last Ashbury novel but apparently she’s working on a new series that sounds quite intriguing! Sadly, it’s not in epistolary format. Not much information on it yet but from hints gleaned from her blog, but it’s “A series set partly in a Kingdom, and partly in the real world”, or something like that. I’m just excited for it and since you’re a fan of her work, thought maybe you’d like to know as well :D

  18. Nicola says:

    I’m jealous that you have so much brand new Jaclyn Moriarty reading ahead of you. All of her books are just wonderful. It’s too, too hard to pick a favourite, but ‘Feeling Sorry for Celia’ contains what I think is one the best lines I’ve ever read:

    “Saxon’s aunt is playing a very violent video game in the other corner.
    It’s so nice and peaceful. The only sounds are the ocean waves, the wind, and an occasional burst of machine-gun fire.”

    I laughed so hard the first time I read that.

    On another note the title on the cover of my Bindy Mackenzie book is ‘The Betrayal of Bindy Mackenzie’. I’m in Australia, so I guess that was the original title, but it’s weird that the book has been published under three so similar titles. It’s hard to see the point, really.

  19. Ana says:

    So many fans of Moriarty! (even the ones who haven’t read her books yet – you are a sleeper fan, I promise!) . Does my heart so good. I am looking forward to reading all her other books , i am so giddy!!! It is like finding John Green and Megan Whalen Turner all over again! :D

  20. Amanda Isabel says:

    I have to get all these and read them in order … is there an order to these? They all look so positively becoming and original – who would think up these plot lines? Amazing.

  21. Etta says:

    Your review totally sold me–I just ordered two of the older books and plan to get to this one as soon as I’ve read the earlier ones.

  22. Michelle M says:

    You have made my heart so happy by reading this review. I too, had never read any Jaclyn Moriarty books before TGoAH – but I am so in love with her now too! And your review just captures everything that I love about it so well! Can’t wait to hear your thoughts on her other books.

  23. Jennifer says:

    Wow, that is a very exuberant post, and now I totally want to buy all of these books. :D

  24. John says:

    I’ve read and LOVED The Year of Secret Assignments and The Life/Murder of Bindy Mackenzie. She’s an author that isn’t as pimped in the states, which is depressing because she is SO GOOD. Read those books as soon as humanely possible.

  25. Nomes says:

    This review just made me all nostalgic to read the book again (I’ve read it twice). I keep this on my bedside table and randomly flick through it most weeks. so therapeutic and completely awesome.

    She spent three years working on this (!) and I am so glad.

    I voted for three Moriarty books in Persnickety Snarks top 100… Anyways, so pumped that her books have been re-launched in the Uk and Us and even Australia is getting new covers.

    I love this review so much I quoted two parts and linked back from my blog :)

    xx

  26. Anonymous says:

    i started reading this book today im in the early hundreds and reallyt dont know what to think of it… its mysteriouse yet dull im confused of what to think of it

  27. anna says:

    i cannot recommend highly enough going back and reading the entire series in order. it is so much more satisfying that way, because while they can all be read as stand-alones, there are so many things which link back to the previous books, and it’s like being in on an inside joke.

    it is kind of sad that you read ghosts first, seeing as certain things about the first three are spoiled for you. but oh well! better late introduced to brilliance than never.

  28. [...] picked my first Moriarty book – The Ghosts of Ashbury High – on a whim based purely on the cover and title of the book and OH MY GOD. It was insta-love. [...]

  29. KatieRose says:

    I have read two of these books, and The Year of the Secret Assignments has been my favourite book for years! It never fails to make me love it and brings me great joy every time I see its smiley face cover :)
    Jaclyn Moriarty is my literary hero :)

  30. [...] my first Moriarty but certainly won’t be my last.  Ms Moriarty first came to my attention in Ana’s 10/10 review of “The Ghosts of Ashbury High”, followed by her “I love this series” post on the Ashbury/Brookfield books.  I [...]

  31. [...] wrote about the Australian history aspect of this book, I found this spot-on perfect review at The Book Smugglers, told in pure Moriarty style. If you’ve read Moriarty’s books, you’ll enjoy it; [...]

  32. Rebecca says:

    I’ve read ALL THREE of the others, and I am hooked. I just bought Dreaming of Amelia (as I call it), and I LOVE IT.

  33. [...] The first three in the series, Feeling Sorry for Celia, Finding Cassie Crazy and The Betrayal of Bindy Mackenzie have been reviewed here (no spoilers) and the fourth, The Ghosts of Ashbury High here. [...]

  34. Susan says:

    I LOVE all of Jaclyn Moriarty’s books. I may even stalk the interwebs for the glimmer of rumor for any new books that she may have written.

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