Amelia Anne is Dead and Gone by Kat Rosenfield

The night Becca graduated high school, she and her boyfriend have sex in the back of his car to celebrate. Except, it’s not a celebration when he breaks her heart right there by telling her it’s over. They’re through.

It’s the same night the dead body of a teen girl shows up along the side of the road, rag dolled and broken in the most unnatural of ways.

When Becca hears about the body, her world shatters a little more. She’d always been eager to leave her small town, always ready for a new adventure, but now she’s scared to leave. What’s always been a safe place now feels unsafe, and if she feels that way here, she’s worried how she’ll feel when she’s hundreds of miles away.

With the summer still ahead of her, Becca has a lot of time on her hands to figure out who she is, what her relationship with her (ex)-boyfriend is, and where she wants to go when the season ends. Oh, and there’s also the question of who the dead girl is, how she got there, and how or why she relates to Becca herself.

Amelia Anne is Dead and Gone is Kat Rosenfield’s debut and it is a knock out. This book is dark, it’s twisted, and has an incredibly satisfying pay off in the end. Not to mention that it has some of the most lush writing I’ve experienced since Nova Ren Suma’s Imaginary Girls — but more on that later.

The story alternates from Becca’s voice to that of Amelia’s, with Becca narrating forward and Amelia narrating almost backward; since Amelia is dead, we start from the tipping point of her life and watch as events line up that ultimately lead to her end. The two girls share pretty similar stories, and this becomes obvious almost immediately. There’s an age difference between them, as Becca’s just graduated high school and standing at the edge of making a decision of which direction she should go now, while Amelia has finished college and is headed straight for the dream she has for herself. In both cases, the girls have a boy who is a heavy part of their lives.

There is a major difference in their stories though, and that’s perception of control.

While I found myself interested in Amelia’s story, I really fell into Becca’s world. The opening scene is raw and painful — as soon as she’s given herself to her boyfriend James in the most intimate of ways (yes, possible in a car in the middle of no where), he leaves her there naked and broken. And while it’s consensual, what he did to her emotionally and psychologically equates to rape. This is an important plot point, and it’s one that’ll emerge again and again throughout the story in different, and maybe varied and twisted, ways. Becca started dating James roughly a year ago, and it was a bit reluctant. They’re from completely different worlds and backgrounds; Becca’s always been on a scholarly path, always been prepared to leave her small town behind and achieve bigger things at university in a big city. James, on the other hand, isn’t. He’s a townie, never cared about school. Though he’s poised as a typical bad boy, he’s not, and that’s what draws Becca to him. Except she worries by dating him she’s going to break his heart when the time comes for her to leave town. But more than that, she worries by dating him, she’ll give up her own dreams of leaving and choose instead to stay behind with him.

The tension between Becca’s dreams and her reality is believable. We’re immediately thrown into a moment where a decision was made for her, without any input on her part. When the body is found and the town is thrown for a loop over who this is, Becca latches onto solving the mystery. She offers insight into who lives in this small and eerie town, and she points her finger directly at a boy she’s convinced has had a hand in killing Amelia. In the mean time, as much as Becca and James have ended their relationship, they’re still spending time together, and Becca relives their relationships regularly, trying to find the point when things changed. When she changed from being the forward-driven girl to the kind of girl who wanted to give herself fully to a boy and a relationship.

Because I don’t want to ruin the mystery, all I can really add about Amelia and Becca’s criss-crossing story lines is that Amelia’s world is the world Becca deserves, and what Becca’s struggling with is precisely what Amelia figures out. Moreover, everything we’re led to believe about one of the characters ends up changing. Rosenfield does a great job of giving readers a big twist in the story, and while it was something I’d suspected from the beginning, I was ultimately satisfied (and still surprised, not because I “got” it but because it ended up playing out how I hoped it would).

Amelia Anne is Dead and Gone offers not only a compelling plot with fully-developed characters, but it’s well-written. The language and description doesn’t take a back seat here. Instead, we’re treated to a small town that feels real and is very visual. The secondary characters — primarily townies, the kinds of people who live their entire lives in these places — don’t feel like stereotypes, even when Becca describes them that way. They’re dynamic, and this comes across through the moments of revealing the mystery of dead Amelia.

Rosenfield’s writing reminded me a lot of Nova Ren Suma’s. It’s literary without being pretentious and without sacrificing plot. More than that, this story had some chillingly similar elements to Imaginary Girls, particularly when it came to setting. When you read a lot of books, it’s always interesting to see where stories are in (unintentional) conversations with one another. While Rosenfield’s story is wholly contemporary, there were a lot of moments when the two stories had a lot of cross overs with one another, and I could so see Chloe in a similar position as Becca and Ruby in the same position as Amelia. Fans of Suma’s book will no doubt want to pick this one up.

I read the bulk of Amelia Anne is Dead and Gone in one sitting, and it’s the kind of book I see myself picking up again to revisit. It’s ultimately a book about life choices and about life and death, as well as how life choices can impact whether you’re living or you’re dying. While there is a lot of focus on romantic relationships and how those impact choice-making, Rosenfield never lays down a message about them. They’re neither good things nor bad things but things in and of themselves and they impact an individual’s choices. Moreover, the book successfully twists reader perceptions when it comes to characters, too: there aren’t clear cut villains or victims (aside from Amelia) but rather, everyone in the story comes to be who they are through the choices they make. This is the kind of book that’ll speak to readers who feel they’re stuck somewhere or stuck in something they can’t move forward from and it’ll appeal to readers who enjoy a good mystery, too. I think it’ll end up being a favorite of 2012 and one that sticks with me for quite a while.

Review copy received from the publisher. Amelia Anne is Dead and Gone will be available July 5.

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