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May 24, 2012 / Leslie

Review: The Year of the Gadfly by Jennifer Miller

Year of The Gadfly by Jennifer MillerThe Year of The Gadfly
by Jennifer Miller

Genre: Mystery
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Publish Date: May 8, 2012
Format: Hardcopy | 374 pages
Rating: 4½ of 5

Mariana Academy, an east coast prep school with a gothic environment, is the setting of this well-constructed debut fiction by Jennifer Miller.

Iris Dupont’s parents and doctor feel a change of scenery is necessary and that Mariana Academy will provide the environment she needs to recover from the recent loss of her best friend. Instead she finds stressful surroundings in the form of bullying students and a mysterious secret society intent on exposing teachers, students, and the school for any indiscretion they can dig up. Iris, an aspiring journalist who’s mentor and frequent confidant is the great Edward R. Murrow, is determined to investigate this society and unravel the mystery.

The story is told from three different points of view, both past and present. Iris tells her story in the present. The second voice, from the past, is Lily, an albino girl who attended Mariana a decade ago. After leaving school it is rumored she is out of the county and has not been heard from again. Ironically, the home Iris and her parents are now renting is owned by Lily’s father, the former Mariana headmaster, and Iris has been given Lily’s old room. In it she finds a book, Marvelous Species: Investigating Earth’s Mysterious Biology, that will be significant in solving the mystery.

The third voice is Jonah Kaplan, a science teacher at Mariana and former student, who was in the same class as Lily. Jonah speaks in the present and occasionally flashes back to his time at Mariana. He has his own secrets to conceal and a twin brother that was Lily’s boyfriend who died in a car accident. Or was it a suicide?

I engaged in the story immediately. There were a lot of elements I liked: A bit of science (it’s ok if you are not a science-y type), a good mystery, Edward R. Murrow (even if he was in the form of an apparition), a secret society, or perhaps I just liked the characters. I especially enjoyed Iris’ witty conversations with Murrow as she conjured up his ghost to ask his advice. “What would Murrow do” became her mantra. When he began to appear without her summoning, I had to smile in delight.

While it seems like I’m describing a complex, wandering story with many directions, that definitely is not the case. Part of my pleasure while reading was discovering new bits and pieces of information about each character from each of their perspectives and putting it together. The story is tightly plotted with great dialog that moves easily between the speakers as their stories are woven together.

I’m not usually drawn to prep school type stories but this wasn’t a typical prep school tale nor is it aimed at the YA crowd, even though the main character is a teenager. I’m always a sucker for a well-drawn novel that alternates the past with the present and ties it all together in the end.

A Giveaway

Does this sound like a book you’d like to read?

I have a copy of The Year of the Gadfly to give away to one of my readers. Leave a comment by Sunday, June 3rd. The winner will be notified by email and will have 48 hours to respond with a mailing address, US/Canada only.

To read what other reviewers had to say, click HERE for the tour schedule and list of links. Some of them are also hosting a giveaway.

About the Author

JENNIFER MILLER, author of Inheriting the Holy Land: An American’s Search for Hope in the Middle East, holds an undergraduate degree from Brown and graduate degrees in journalism and fiction from Columbia. Her work has been published in the New York Times, Marie Claire, Men’s Health, the Christian Science Monitor,, and others. She is a native of Washington, D.C. and lives in Brooklyn.

Connect with Jennifer: Website | Facebook | Twitter

Contest Closed

Winner: Serena of Saavy Verse & Wit

Source: Review copy.
© 2012 Under My Apple Tree. All rights reserved.



Leave a Comment
  1. Sheila (Book Journey) / May 24 2012 5:49 am

    Leslie, this sounds really good! I recently read about another school that had a secret society and I enjoyed that one and love the element of belonging to something exclusive. I would love to read this!


  2. Mary / May 24 2012 5:57 am

    I think it sounds really good and the fact that you’re not usually attracted to prep school novels but liked this is recommendation enough for me! Thanks for the chance to win.


  3. Diane@BibliophilebytheSea / May 24 2012 6:14 am

    I love the sound of this, I generally always enjoy books with a school setting. great review Leslie


  4. Suko / May 24 2012 10:39 am

    Leslie, this does sound wonderful. I, too, like the idea of the school setting. Thank you for hosting this giveaway. I’ve posted it in my blog’s sidebar.


  5. BermudaOnion / May 24 2012 3:19 pm

    You had me at east coast prep school. This book sounds great! I’d love to be entered in your giveaway.


  6. Twisty J / May 25 2012 8:46 am

    This sounds like a great read, and has been getting stellar reviews for the most part. Thanks for the chance!


  7. Heather J. @ TLC / May 25 2012 1:10 pm

    Like you I enjoy books that tie together past and present so I think I’d really like this one too!

    Thanks for being on the tour.


  8. Amy / May 25 2012 4:47 pm

    I usually enjoy books set in an academy or university and this one sounds captivating! The idea of Iris having witty conversations with the ghost of Murrow is enticing and combined with a tightly plotted story with great dialogue and intriguing characters is too good to pass up!
    Your revierw is terrific. Thank you for hosting a giveaway. Please include me in it!



  9. sagustocox / May 25 2012 9:45 pm

    I wasn’t immediately drawn to this title by the cover, but after all the great reviews, it sounds like a book I’d like to read. Thanks for the giveaway. savvyverseandwit at gmail


  10. g2-0b506f4bc8875428a725a337d9f0933e / May 27 2012 10:17 am

    Your description completely drew me in. This sounds like something I would really enjoy. Plus, I’m a sucker for Edward R. Murrow! 😉


    patricia dot mariani dot esq at gmail dot com


  11. Maureen / May 27 2012 5:17 pm

    It sounds like a unique story with a bit of a mystery.


  12. Jaime H. / May 27 2012 6:54 pm

    The story being told from different viewpoints sounds really interesting. Thanks for a great review!


  13. Laurie C / May 27 2012 8:33 pm

    Yours is the second good review of this one that I’ve seen. Thanks for the giveaway offer!

    lacavanaugh AT appleblossom DOT net


  14. Anita Yancey / May 29 2012 7:32 am

    This mystery sounds so interesting. I would love to read it to find out the rest of Iris’s story, and the secrets she uncovers at the school. I also really like the name of the book. Please enter me. Thanks!



  1. Jennifer Miller, author of The Year of the Gadfly, on tour May 2012 | TLC Book Tours
  2. 2012 Reading Challenge Wrap-Up « Under My Apple Tree

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