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Reviews of books by Jaclyn Moriarty

Jaclyn Moriarty’s A Corner of White (Levine/Scholastic) is a 2013 Boston Globe-Horn Book Honor Book winner. Here’s how The Horn Book has reviewed some of her other titles. Spoiler alert: We like them.

 The Ghosts of Ashbury High
by Jaclyn Moriarty
High School     Levine/Scholastic     486 pp.
6/10     978-0-545-06972-4     $18.99     g

Moriarty has found a winning formula for her thoroughly enjoyable, deceptively simple Ashbury High novels: she takes a clever, sophisticated epistolary format, adds sparkling, effervescent wit, and applies them to a mash-up of literary genres. Here she puts her eclectic cast of characters through the paces of gothic fiction and ghost story. Emily and Lydia (from The Year of Secret Assignments, rev. 3/04) return to narrate their senior year; their accounts are balanced by Toby, who is infatuated with — or possessed by — an Irish convict deported to Australia long ago, and Riley, a former Brookfield student with a dark past. In her endearingly inquisitive way, Emily becomes obsessed with Amelia and Riley, the mysterious new couple; the potential reunion of Lydia and Seb (following a premature break-up); and the ghost that has been haunting the music rooms. As Moriarty’s inspired silliness begins to yield up the novel’s mysteries, it becomes clear that there is some kind of relationship between the contemporary romances and the historical ones. There’s a lot of plot to untangle here, but The Ghosts of Ashbury High should satisfy diehard fans and bring new ones into the fold. JONATHAN HUNT

From the July/August 2010 Horn Book Magazine.

The Spell Book of Listen Taylor
by Jaclyn Moriarty
High School     Levine/Scholastic     479 pp.
9/07     978-0-439-84678-3     $16.99     g

Moriarty (The Year of Secret Assignments, rev. 3/04; The Life Murder of Bindy Mackenzie, rev. 1/07) returns with another madly convoluted, over-the-top comedy-drama-mystery told from multiple points of view. Twelve-year-old Listen Taylor is too ashamed to tell her father and his new girlfriend, Marbie, that her friends have dropped her; her other secret is that she’s found a book of spells. Marbie Zing loves and adores Listen’s father, but finds herself inexplicably having an affair. Marbie’s sister Fancy is certain her husband, whom she despises, is having an affair. Fancy’s daughter’s teacher, Cath Murphy, begins an affair with another teacher. Each character has a secret, but the biggest secret of all is the one surrounding the Zing Family Secret Meetings, held every Friday night in Grandpa and Grandma Zing’s garden shed. While trying to figure out what the Zings are up to, readers will also be keeping close track of Listen’s spells and their repercussions. The novel demands careful reading (and even flipping back and re-reading) but amply rewards it. Moriarty’s book (a revised version of an adult novel) is like Listen’s spell book: each requires a leap of faith, but each also possesses an intriguing mystery and an authoritative, immensely witty voice; and in both, the end result is magically uplifting. JENNIFER M. BRABANDER

From the September/October 2007 Horn Book Magazine.

The Life Murder of Bindy Mackenzie
by Jaclyn Moriarty
Middle School, High School     Levine/Scholastic     494 pp.
10/06     0-439-74051-7    $16.99

This companion to Feeling Sorry for Celia and The Year of Secret Assignments (rev. 3/04) is set in the same Australian high school and focuses on yet another of its students. Fans may remember Bindy Mackenzie as the fast typist who transcribed the school hearing in Secret Assignments; the top student whose eccentricities have left her with few friends. As in that book, the story here is told entirely through diaries, memos, e-mail, and letters. Bindy’s voice, both written and spoken, is old-fashioned and melodramatic — and very funny. Well-meaning and sincere, Bindy is hopelessly clueless about how pompous she sounds and how many enemies she’s made. Eventually it becomes clear that Bindy is in deep trouble: her habit of listening in on and transcribing people’s conversations has apparently angered someone, enough to make her an attempted murder victim. While completely over-the-top, the murder mystery will have readers going back to hunt for clues they missed. Fans of the first two books will be eager to visit Ashbury High and its intrigues again, and to find out just what makes brainy Bindy tick. JENNIFER M. BRABANDER

From the January/February 2007 Horn Book Magazine.

The Year of Secret Assignments
by Jaclyn Moriarty
High School     Levine/Scholastic     344 pp.
2/04     0-439-49881-3     $16.95     g

From the author of Feeling Sorry for Celia comes a second comic novel about gal pals — and pen pals — set in the same Australian high school and focusing once again on the Famous Ashbury-Brookfield Pen Pal Project. The novel follows private school students Lydia, Emily, and Cassie as they are assigned to write letters to students at Brookfield High, despite Emily’s complaint to their English teacher that “it’s probably against our constitutional rights to make us associate with drug dealers and murderers.” The three girls have been friends 4-ever, but things haven’t been the same between them since Cassie’s father died a year ago, and Cassie gets even weirder once they begin writing to their pen pals, all boys. The novel — written entirely in letters, diary entries, e-mails, etc. — is fast and funny but not frothy. Moriarty’s story is complex, original, and unpredictable enough that it’s much more than a guilty-pleasure read. The format, along with the humor and romance, will draw Louise Rennison fans — and give them just as much flash, with a whole lot more substance. JENNIFER M. BRABANDER

From the March/April 2004 Horn Book Magazine.

Elissa Gershowitz About Elissa Gershowitz

Elissa Gershowitz is executive editor of The Horn Book, Inc. She holds an MA from the Center for the Study of Children's Literature at Simmons College and a BA from Oberlin College.

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