Back in March, I won a giveaway where I had the option of choosing from a list of four books. They were all equally tempting. All had equally tempting storylines.
Other than the adorable cover and all that I’ve heard about Jaclyn Moriarty, what made me opt for The Year of Secret Assignments (aka Finding Cassie Crazy)?
The fact that it is epistolary. Written in the form of letters, diary entries, graffiti, notes between friends, transcripts etc.
The book took ages to arrive. There was some misunderstanding with the emails sent to and fro and blah blah…but the book eventually did arrive sometime in June.
And I finally did read it.
And now, I’m in love with Jaclyn Moriarty.
Summary (from the back of my book): Three girls. Three boys. Two rival schools. This could get messy. The Ashbury-Brookefield pen pal program is designed to bring together the two rival schools in a spirit of harmony and ‘the Joy of the Envelope’. But when Cassie, Lydia and Emily send their first letters to Matthew, Charlie, and Sebastian, things don’t go quite as planned. What starts out as a simple letter exchange soon leads to secret missions, false alarms, lock picking, mistaken identities, and an all-out war between the schools – not to mention some really excellent kissing.
I have to say, I don’t think the book summary does the book justice. Yes, it sounds the kind of fun that makes you want to lunge for it at once, but The Year of Secret Assignments is so much more than plain fun. It’s about friendship and families, death and coming to terms with yourself. It’s about doing things you didn’t think you’d ever do, even if it’s as simple as writing in a diary.
The Year of Secret Assignments takes a year out of the lives of three best friends – Lydia, Cass and Em – with a penchant for setting off smoke alarms and bunking maths to go to the movies, and lets the reader take more than a glimpse into their private letters, notebooks and diaries. It turns out to be a rather eventful year since the tenth grade class of Ashbury High is forced to participate in a pen pal program with their rival school, Brookefield. That sparks off some heated words (or letters), challenging (secret) assignments (or pranks *ahem*), threats…which eventually give way to grudging liking in certain cases, Dates with A Girl and one terrifying encounter with a pen pal.
Jaclyn Moriarty’s strongest point is definitely her character voices. There are six main character voices (Lydia, Em, Cassie, Seb, Charlie, Matthew) and an additional three others (Emily’s father, the forever-concerned form mistress and Bindy Mackenzie). That’s nine voices in all but they are so distinct from other another, the characters take on a life of their own. Thus, at the start of their correspondence, Em, Lydia and Cassie respond in their characteristic manner.
“I always think it’s funny when a teacher tries to be cool. I want to sit them down and say ‘It’s okay, you’re a grown-up, you’re allowed to be a nerd,’ and they will look up at me confused but also relieved and teary-eyed.”
Lydia: “I am a fish. You wouldn’t think so to look at me, what with my uniform and the hair on top of my head and all that. But it’s true. I am a fish.”
Emily: “Don’t get me started about chocolate! My nickname might be ‘Em,’ but sometimes it’s also Toblerone! I think this is an angiogram of Thompson, which is my last name.”
The three girls write to three different guys and sometimes they end up narrating the same incident all over again, but once again it’s the character voices which save it from being repetitive. And the friendship depicted between these three very different girls is so charming (in a YA world which seems to running amok with frenemies) and sweet and realistic, well, I’m just glad I finally get to read about girl friendship which doesn’t have an ulterior motive. The girls’ relationship with the guys, too, is delightfully portrayed, though I didn’t forsee the twist that came with one of them.
This is a quirky, book with dollops of charm, screwball humour and a cast of delightfully unforgettable characters. I loved it. I loved everything about it. And I can read and read this book over and over again. It’s refreshing and original and well, JACLYN MORIARTY HAS WON ME OVER AS A FAN FOR LIFE.