Kate Baron is a Manhattan lawyer and single mom to fifteen-year-old Amelia, an academically superior student at a Brooklyn prep school. Imagine Kate’s shock, then, when she gets a phone call from the school asking her to pick up Amelia, who’s been suspended.
By the time Kate arrives at the school, however, Amelia is dead, with the police and medical examiner quickly deciding that the girl committed suicide by jumping off the roof. In shock, Kate accepts this verdict…until she starts getting anonymous texts from someone saying Amelia didn’t jump. Kate sets out to find the truth, even if combing through Amelia’s texts and Facebook updates reveals devastating secrets about the daughter Kate thought she knew so well.
Kate’s anguish is palpable, and her struggle to be a good mom and sole provider is entirely sympathetic. The chapters from her POV are more riveting than the ones from Amelia’s. Though Amelia is a smart and good kid, she frustrated me by repeatedly making bad decisions that go against everything she believes in.
Kimberly McCreight convincingly writes in Amelia’s voice, but I’m too far removed from my fifteen-year-old self to find teenage angst absorbing, and Amelia’s best friend Sylvia is annoyingly self-centered.
A few anachronisms and plot points also took me out of the story. Someone e-mails Kate from Ghana on a gmail account…in 1997. Gmail was not launched until 2004, and not available to the public until 2007. I also didn’t have Internet that year because it wasn’t a common thing yet, but this same character had access to it in West Africa. Not saying it’s impossible, just far-fetched.
A cop traces the source of some anonymous texts but gives Kate only a home address and no names, causing Kate to go to the location for a confrontation. Why couldn’t the cop come up with the names of the property owners/residents once he had the address? This seems like a convenient omission so the revelation of the texter’s secret identity could be more dramatic, but by that point, it’s no longer a surprise.
Speaking of anonymous texts, it’s not just one person sending them but several, during the same time periods, independently of each other and for different reasons, which is too coincidental.
Despite these issues, the story has emotional heft, with Amelia becoming most affecting and hopeful right before she dies. There’s so much she didn’t get to tell Kate, and vice versa. Kate’s loss is shattering, but by the end, it seems she’s on her way to reconstructing herself.
Nerd verdict: Flawed but affecting Amelia