I read Joclyn Moriarty's first book, at the time her only book, back when I still fell into the YA demographic. Of all the many (many, many) YA books I read when I actually was a young adult, this is one that really stuck with me. It was called 'Feeling Sorry For Celia' and was about a long distance runner named Elizabeth and her troubled best friend, a new best friend, and, of course, boys.
I loved this book. It was insanely funny, (like, don’t read it somewhere were laughing aloud is frowned upon) but not at all lacking in feeling. Elizabeth starts the book with terribly low self esteem. She composes letters in her head from various departments (ie, the department of being a teenager, the department of being a daughter and so on) telling her how badly she's failing at everything, and perhaps she should just crawl into a refrigerator and stay there? Watching Elizabeth slowly learn to like herself is pretty awesome, and never falls into cliched, after school special kind of territory. And although I know that this does fall into after school special territory, it made YA me feel like I could maybe stop hating on myself so much too.
So you would think that, having loved 'Feeling Sorry For Celia' so much, that I would have kept on top of the author's later works? Well, uh, no. By the time she published more, I was starting university, and the thing is, around this time, I got the (stupid) idea into my head that I was now too old to read YA. Not because people would think I was lame if they saw me reading it, but for some bizarre reason I thought that I would no longer enjoy it. That I was too mature for it. I actually would get a little sad sometimes, thinking of all the awesome books I had read while in high school that I could never enjoy again.
It's only been in the last few months, since I've started keeping up with book review blogs, that I've realised that you're never too old to enjoy YA, and that my previously held opinions were pretty dumb. Hell, if anything, now that the subject matter of the books is not so painfully relevant I enjoy the books more. This resulted in mad re-readings of all the books I had loved, and the gleefull acquiring of the books my then favourite authors had published since.
Which brings us, finally, to the later books of Jocelyn Moriarty. (Or, as I like to think of them, the books of many names. Seriously, what kind of a book needs an entirely different name for it’s Australian, UK, and American releases? It’s madness!) There were three books following Feeling Sorry for Celia, featuring the same public and private school and overlapping many of the same characters, but which don’t really need to be read in order.
Let us first talk about the Murder of Bindie Mackenzie. If there was a museum somewhere were unsympathetic protagonists were put on display I am sure Bindie Mackenzie would feel right at home there among all the Logan Nine Fingers and Jamie Lannisters of the world. The girl is just not likable. She doesn’t murder innocent woman or kick puppies, she’s annoying in a much more uncool way. She’s smart, she knows it, and she doesn’t understand why people don’t seem to want her help. Think Hermione Granger, but turned up to eleven. Everyone has known someone in their life like Bindie Mackenzie. The high strung girl whose school uniform was always immaculate and who, if your teacher was late to class, would go and find her.
Man, didn’t you hate that girl? The other characters in the book certainty hates Bindie, and that’s how the story kicks off. Bindie, who had always believed herself universally liked and admired, learns that her classmates really can’t stand her. So, naturally, she seeks revenge. Hilarious, ineffective, revenge. The plot, and this is true of all the Moriarty books I’ve read, seems to be doing not much of anything until, BAM, everything comes together at once. It’s never boring, Moriarty has that skill of making the most mundane of activities interesting to read about, but you do start to wonder if it’s all going somewhere. Trust me, it is.
I’ve complained before about how Stephen King will sometimes take an awesome premise and then shoehorn some classic horror into it. Moriarty is a bit like this too. She writes awesome YA books that deal with stuff every single young adult deals with, but she just can’t stop herself from throwing something really out there into it. Like suicide pacts or ghosts or running away to in the circus or, in this case, dun dun dun, murder! Which annoys the ever living hell out of me when Stephen King does it, but this added larger than lifeness is something I really enjoy in Moriarty’s books.
Another author I think of when reading her books is J.K.Rowling. Like Rowling, Moriarty is a master at scattering offhand events throughout her books that later turn out to be of upmost importance, which is something I always enjoy. It make the whole book feel like a self contained puzzle, where everything has a purpose.
But Moriarty’s greatest skill has to be her characters. You see, you start the book agreeing with the mean things Bindie’s classmates say, and laughing at her failed attempts to get back at them, but as the book progresses we slowly start to learn more about Bindie Mackenzie, and while she doesn’t get less annoying, you certainty start to feel for her. Moriarty is a master at slowly revealing information. There are no shocking revelations that make you stop and go, ‘wow! Poor Bindie!’ but something is hinted at here, something peeks out from between the lines over there, and before you know Bindie is a three dimensional character and you’re hoping everything turns out alright for her.
And does it turn out alright for her? Well, uh, check out the title of the book…
This book? I bought it