Monday, June 17, 2013

Year of the Gadfly (Book Review)

Monday, June 17, 2013 12:38 PM with 4 comments
The Year of the GadflyYear of the Gadfly

Author: Jennifer Miller
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Number of Pages: 374
Release Date: May 8, 2012

My rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Synopsis from Goodreads:

“Do you know what it took for Socrates’ enemies to make him stop pursuing the truth?”

Storied, fiercely competitive Mariana Academy was founded with a serious honor code; its reputation has been unsullied for decades. Now a long-dormant secret society, Prisom's Party, threatens its placid halls with vigilante justice, exposing students and teachers alike for even the most minor infraction.

Iris Dupont, a budding journalist whose only confidant is the chain-smoking specter of Edward R. Murrow, feels sure she can break into the ranks of The Devil’s Advocate, the Party’s underground newspaper, and there uncover the source of its blackmail schemes and vilifying rumors. Some involve the school’s new science teacher, who also seems to be investigating the Party. Others point to an albino student who left school abruptly ten years before, never to return. And everything connects to a rare book called Marvelous Species. But the truth comes with its own dangers, and Iris is torn between her allegiances, her reporter's instinct, and her own troubled past.

The Year of the Gadfly is an exhilarating journey of double-crosses, deeply buried secrets, and the lifelong reverberations of losing someone you love. Following in the tradition of classic school novels such as A Separate Peace, Prep, and The Secret History, it reminds us
how these years haunt our lives forever.


I've always been enamored with the East Coast, especially New England. I love the fall foliage, the Victorian and Cape Cod houses, the fair isle sweaters, but more than anything, I love the schools. Growing up in small-town Wyoming, I fantasized about the prep and boarding schools on the East Coast. The gothic buildings, the ivy, the intellectual debates I thought must occur in the dorms. I still have a soft spot for this idealized world and if a synopsis of a book includes the words "prep school", I will almost always check it out.

The Year of the Gadfly by Jennifer Miller was an interesting, well-written addition to this world. It follows 14-year old Iris. A girl who is new to Mariana Academy. After her best friend committed suicide, her parents moved her to a small New England town named Nye for a fresh start. Iris is an aspiring journalist and frequently talks to the ghost of her ideal, Edward Murrow, the esteemed journalist. She wants to write real stories for her school newspaper, but is blocked by her editor who believes any story that hurts the reputation of Mariana will hurt the chances of the students getting into good schools. When the long-dormant secret society, Prisom's Party, starts to dole out their own brand of justice under the idea of the truth and brotherhood, Iris becomes intrigued and decides to do a little digging for a story.

Also interested in the society is Iris' science teacher, Jonah, a man in his 20s who went to Mariana Academy as a boy. He is returning to Nye for the first time since his twin brother's death 12 years earlier. He is happy to hear that the girl he loved in high school, Hazel, is also back in town and running and living in the Historical Society House.

The book follows two intertwining story lines, the present with Iris and adult Jonah and Hazel, and the year 2000 with Jonah and his brother, Hazel, and Justin's albino girlfriend, Lily, who grew up in the house where Iris and her family are staying while waiting for their own house to be completed. The chapters shift between time and characters, expertly weaving the stories together until its conclusion. The mystery of the society is intriguing and the writing is sharp and original.

I thoroughly enjoyed Year of the Gadfly and would recommend it to people who like stories based in academia. I look forward to reading what Jennifer Miller writes next.


  1. Oh, I love intertwining story lines! That and the mystery kind of reminds me of Jellicoe Road, which I loved. I've never heard of this book before, so thanks for sharing!

    1. I love intertwining story lines, too. The way this one comes together is very cool. Thanks for stopping by!

  2. Hmmm, my book club is reading this one next month, and I don't really have time for it. I'm not sure if I'm sold enough to MAKE time, damn the schedule. However, I may try this eventually. I'm so often let down by boarding school books, but this does sound intriguing.

    1. I really did enjoy it. The boarding school aspect is a little different because the students don't stay overnight. I hope you enjoy it if you decide to pick it up for your book club (or sometime down the road). Thanks for stopping by!


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