Monday, October 14, 2013

Ashbury/Brookfield Series Review: Feeling Sorry for Celia & The Murder of Bindy Mackenzie by Jaclyn Moriarty

Note: As this is a series composed of companion novels, it is not necessary to read these books in order (as I prove with my reviews below).

Title: Feeling Sorry for Celia (Ashbury/Brookfield, #1)
Author: Jaclyn Moriarty
Rating: 4 Stars

Feeling Sorry for Celia is hilarious, heartfelt, and an absolute delight. Moriarty's specialty seems to be novels told in an epistolary form and her talent comes alive in this novel. Elizabeth, the protagonist of our tale, begins a written correspondence with Christina, a girl from a neighboring school, that soon blossoms into a tight friendship. The titular Celia is Elizabeth's best friend since childhood, a wild spirit who is constantly running away from home. Like Moriarty's latest, A Corner of White, her debut serves as a character-driven piece, centering about Elizabeth and her gradual journey of self-discovery. With a long-lost father come to stay in Sydney, a neglectful mother who communicates through notes, and a missing best friend, Elizabeth's year is about to become far more complicated than she anticipated.

What I love about Moriarty's work is the utter cleverness of it. I kid you not, this woman is a genius. Feeling Sorry for Celia is dispersed with short notes to Elizabeth from multiple organizations with names such as "THE COLD HARD TRUTH" or "The Best Friend Society" which serve to reflect Elizabeth's own conflicting feelings and her emotions of self-doubt. Growing up, the teenage years are perhaps the most difficult because of these mood-swings and Moriarty conveys these increasingly mixed feelings that Elizabeth has towards others and towards herself in the form of these notes. Additionally, the many tales of Elizabeth's life are told through her letters to Christina, who gradually becomes a confidant and helps Elizabeth to realize that friends, like other things, change as you grow older. And that's okay. I love that this is the theme of this novel - that change, in every way, is inevitable and perfectly alright. We need more books in YA that epitomize this because, truly, no friendship is perfect and long-lasting, as much as we'd all like to believe. When one door closes, another one opens. It really does.

And yet, my favorite part of this story was Celia's own relationship with her mother. Although we see their interactions through colorful and amusing notes stuck on the refrigerator, mostly because Elizabeth's mother is busy so often, it provides a different angle to the classic mother-daughter relationship. I like seeing a mother who doesn't let her single parenthood dictate her life. I like seeing that Elizabeth's mother pursues her passions, but also loves her daughter very, very much. Elizabeth is fiercely independent, but the love and comfort she gains from her mother is still visible. It is a delicate balance to strike, one that becomes more obvious and meaningful as the novel progresses, but it is present and beautiful all the same. All in all, Feeling Sorry for Celia is one of the best contemporaries out there and an unexpectedly honest portrayal of growing up, facing the world, and friendship.

*Bonus: Sex Positive YA, Anonymous Letters, Secret Admirers, Rescue Missions, and Circuses!

Title: The Murder of Bindy Mackenzie (Ashbury/Brookfield, #3)
Author: Jaclyn Moriarty
Rating: 4 Stars

The Murder of Bindy Mackenzie can only be described as a literary delight. Once again, Moriarty's epistolary format not only surprises, but stuns, in its genius. With this installment in the Ashbury/Brookfield Series, Moriarty follows the tale of Bindy Mackenzie, a top student whose life is slowly turning upside down. For starters, she's living with her aunt and uncle while her parents pursue their careers. For another, there's a strange new class called Friendship and Development (FAD) in which Bindy is stuck with the Venomous Seven. On top of all that, Bindy is forgetting her assignments, baby-sitting, sending frantic e-mails to her parents, and transcribing conversations she overhears. With so much crazy going on, there can be only one explanation for Bindy's change in behavior: she's being - slowly - murdered.

Easily one of the highlights of this novel is friendship. When we first meet Bindy, she is quick to judge - instantly disliking the "Venomous Seven" in her FAD class - and goes out of her way to be rude. And yet, as the novel progresses, we begin to see Bindy's side of the situation; of her past and the small actions that have caused Bindy to slowly hate the majority of her classmates. As she works to win them back, though, the friendships formed are ones to look out for. Not only are they achingly realistic, but also heartfelt. Furthermore, it's impossible not to love Bindy. After all, this is the girl who is vying for her parents affections, who sends them long e-mails but never receives any responses. Moriarty manages to weave so much depth into this one piece, all while retaining her humor and light voice.

Sadly, what really prevented me from giving this book a higher rating - despite the fact that I teared up during a scene or two and completely LOVED the growth arc of this novel - was the "murder" plot. We see this really emerge during the last third and while I cannot deny that it is brilliantly woven into the story, never taking away from the depth of the novel and only adding to its enjoyability, it did take away one thing from the novel that I particularly enjoyed. Bindy experiences what it's like to suddenly become so involved in what others think of her and redeem herself to her friends that she often pushes aside her school work. I feel as if this is a very natural direction for many teens to take and loved that Bindy's isolation from everything - even school, which she formerly excelled in - was a part of this novel. Thus, to have it explained away in the end was a bit of disappointment. Furthermore, I wanted more closure when it came to Bindy and her parents. I simply wish we could have seen a greater source of interaction between them. Nevertheless, this is a definite winner. I do think Feeling Sorry for Celia is a slightly stronger story overall - and I loved seeing Elizabeth re-appear in this novel and witnessing the direction her story arc took was enriching - but The Murder of Bindy Mackenzie is certainly a worthy piece of YA Fiction. One of the few out there.

*Bonus: Mysteriously Missing Brothers, Unknown Nail Polish Senders, Creepy Babysitting Hirers, and...Murder?

14 comments:

  1. I have a friend who is a huge fan of the Moriarties, and I promised to read something very soon. So far, I've only read WHat Alice Forgot and it was somewhat of a disappointment, but I might have better luck with these.
    I'm not a fan of epistolary novels at all, but since you say they're the work of a genius in this case, I am incredibly curious.
    Lovely reviews. :)

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  2. Oh, I love these books, they're such comfort reads for me. I love that Moriarty can make you laugh and cry in the space of just a few pages. And like you say, she's *so clever*. You don't even realise at first, and then she ties together such an amazing, intricate story that's just so smart.. I'm so glad you enjoyed both Keertana. Feeling Sorry For Celia holds a special place in my heart, I really connected with that story.

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  3. Books with strong relationships is something that I appreciate-especially if they are about friendahis.

    Lovely reviews, chick! <33

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  4. I remember reading Feeling Sorry for Celia so long ago and I was meant to come back to these books, but as usual was side tracked completely. I like how Moriarty allows you get completely lost in these characters worlds, with great humour and fun, but she portrays realistic issues that I'm sure many readers could relate too, so simply too! I look forward to meeting Bindi soon! Great reviews Keertana! :)

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  5. I've only read book 2 of this series, The Year of Secret Assignments (whose original Aussie title I already forgot), and it is as delightful as how you described these two. I'm glad you loved these as I've been having second thoughts about the other books in the series because their synopses sound more dramatic (and tragic).

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  6. I've actually never even heard of this series, so I suppose I'm in the minority on this. However, I love how you describe the series, and I can appreciate the fact that you know and can identify exactly what's lacking from making this series extraordinary. Wonderful reviews, Keertana! :)

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  7. Why haven't I heard of this series before Keertana! Even with your one reservation about book 2, it's always a good sign for me to see you give a sequel such a high rating, I love when a second book holds its own against the first. You had me secret admirers on the first one, I'm a sucker for those every time! Beautiful reviews as always!

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  8. I love these two books! I read Bindy first and its my favorite, i just love the friendships that develop in the second half too and Finnegan! Fantastic reviews sharing what makes these two books splendid.

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  9. I have to admit, I would have passed on Feeling Sorry because of the title. I would be thinking too much unnecessary drama. So glad that isn't the case and I love the sound of the mother.

    Too bad the second one isn't as strong, but it still sounds like a good read. I love growth novels, but also love closure. Hm...

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  10. How come I haven't heard of this author or this series before. Sounds like a really interesting read. I'm not fan of epistolary novels but when you say it worked here them I want to try it. Second, actually third book seems a bit more interesting for me for some reason. The whole idea of it. Great review Keertana :)

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  11. Ahh your reviews make me want to re-read! I love this series. It's so freaking delightful and clever. <3 Aussie authors.

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  12. This is another series I haven't heard of! Waaahhh I need more time to read...anyway, I love that these are companions and can be read in any order. I also love that they are character driven, written in letter form, and seem to capture all the messiness of what it is to be a teen, while also remaining delightful to read. Themes of friendship and family always get me, as do an author's ability to write with humor and fun, while also conveying truth and reality in their words. Great review!

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  13. I bought one of the books in Aus last summer, but haven't gotten around to reading it yet--I know the series is a favorite for our friends down under! Good to see they lived up to your expectations. :)

    Wendy @ The Midnight Garden

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