Monday, April 1, 2013

Review: The Year of Secret Assignments by Jaclyn Moriarty

The Year of Secret Assignments by Jaclyn Moriarty
The Ashfield/Brookfield Series #2
Reviewed by Maggie: April 1, 2013
Published February 1, 2004 by Arthur A. Levine Books
Originally published as Finding Cassie Crazy on
November 1, 2003 by Pan Macmillan Australia
Goodreads • Available at AmazonKindleBook Depository

Every four years, I turn into this crazed figure skating fan. I remember the 2002 Winter Olympics in particular because I lived and died with Michelle Kwan four years earlier and 2002 was going to be HER year. In the long program, Sarah Hughes (aka Sarah Who?) skated first and threw down a flawless performance. Triple toe loop-triple loop, triple salchow-triple loop -- technically and stylistically, it was pretty damn perfect. However, with Michelle Kwan, Sasha Cohen and Irina Slutskaya still waiting to skate, I figured Hughes's performance was just the beginning and I was waiting to be blown away by something even greater.

I read The Year of Secret Assignments, aka Finding Cassie Crazy, last year and immediately placed it on my I Have Just Read You and I Love You shelf. This was before Noelle and I started blogging so I rated it 4 stars and moved on to my next read. However, after revisiting Feeling Sorry for Celia last week, I decided to reread and review Secret Assignments. Well, knock me over with a Sarah Hughes triple salchow because not only did it hold up on reread, it was even better than I remembered. I knew it was good, but after a year of blogging and reading too many Sasha Cohens, this time I let myself be blown away by the skill and artistry of Jaclyn Moriarty's writing.

As with Celia, Secret Assignments is written in epistolary form. Mr. Botherit is back spreading the Joy of the Envelope between rival schools Ashbury and Brookfield. Emily, Lydia, and Cassie are Ashfield girls and best friends. Emily, daughter of two lawyers, wants to be a lawyer herself even though she regularly butchers the English language. I nearly spit out my coffee when she wrote, in all seriousness, that something was "non d' scrip." Lydia wants to be a writer and often uses her creative energy on her friends. She's the instigator behind their secret assignments, tasks that they must complete no matter the peril or potential for punishment. Cassie wants to sing, though her stage fright prevents her from singing in front of anyone other than Em and Lyd. She also lost her father last year and she doesn't know why people keep saying "lost" as if he's been misplaced. Em, Lyd, and Cass have been best friends since elementary school and it shows -- learning about one means learning about them all.

I'll get to the Brookfield boys in a minute but first, how much do you love that the girls are characterized by their goals?? The book starts off with an entry from Lydia's notebook. The Notebook™ is supposed to help aspiring writers achieve their dreams. It is so patronizing and ridiculous. It reminded me of all the mind-numbingly tedious assignments I had to do in high school that were supposed to either get me into a good college or prepare me for adult blah blah blah. Lydia gives The Notebook™ the respect it deserves.

Second, I adored the portrayal of the parents, especially Emily's dad and Cassie's mom. The girls all have at least one lawyer parent who is friendly with the others because they attended law school together. Emily's dad routinely calls her down to dinner via a summons delivered by her younger brother. Em's parents are away a lot for work, which she resents, but whenever they are present, they are so clueless but with good intentions that they never fail to crack me up. The memories of Cassie's dad though will squeeze your heart. ("Now you're cooking with gas!")

Are you ready to meet Charlie Taylor and Seb Mantegna? I love good banter and the letters between Charlie and Emily and Seb and Lydia are so witty and fun. The chapters are set up perfectly so you get some scenes with Charlie and Em, then Seb and Lydia, and then Matthew Dunlop and Cass. I put the Charlie and Seb section of my notes on the left. Considering the notes I usually take, it shows how much I loved them. They are both such decent guys. There's no brooding loner bullshit with them. You will be charmed before you can say VERSHOOM.

There are six different letter writers and six different points of view and each one has an individual voice. I could always tell who was doing the talking/writing without having to flip back. On technical merit, Moriarty is solid.

Presentation is where Moriarty really shines. The letters are such an original and fun way to tell this story. There's so much energy in the story and the characters. She captures the indignities that come with being underaged as well as all the potential for mischief. There is a lot of humor in this book but like the relationship between Emily, Lydia, and Cassie, it is based on heart. You don't need to read Feeling Sorry for Celia to read this book, although Celia is worth a read. The Year of Secret Assignments, though, is a perfectly executed triple-triple combination.

Rating: Sarah Hughes. 5 stars.

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