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Literature / Reconstructing Amelia

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Do you really know what's going on inside your daughter's head?

BLOCKED NUMBER: Amelia didn't jump. You know it. I know it.

A novel published in 2013 by Kimberly McCreight.

The story follows Kate, a single mother in New York City whose world is shattered when her daughter Amelia is found dead on school grounds. Even stranger, it's just hours after Kate is called to pick her up to start a suspension after she's uncharacteristically accused of cheating on a paper. Months later, just as Kate begins to finally accept that Amelia committed suicide she receives a mysterious text saying Amelia didn't jump, which kicks off her investigation into the real story behind her daughter's death.

The narrative alternates between the points of view of Kate, the deceased Amelia, and excerpts from Amelia's texts, Facebook posts and other correspondence. Given the number of twists in the book expect spoilers.

  • Academic Athlete: Amelia is a hockey player as well as an honors student and avid reader.
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  • Adult Fear: Besides the most obvious one, Outliving One's Offspring, the story is otherwise full of this.
  • Adults Are Useless: Played with, since while most of the adults aren't particularly effective they at least try. Woodhouse seems to be the example being most played straight but he's not only had his hands tied but is secretly conducting an investigation into the clubs and only stays quiet so as not to give away the mountain of evidence they already have.
  • Alpha Bitch: Zadie Smith, one of the leaders of the Magpies/Maggies.
  • Ambiguous Disorder: Dylan is said by her mother to have some manner of social disorder, heavily implied to be Asperger's, but whether or not her mother is actually telling the truth is left vague.
  • Ambiguously Gay: Zadie comes off as awfully attached to Dylan, even in the context of them being best friends for years.
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  • Anachronic Order: The narrative jumps all over from the immediate aftermath of Amelia's death, to several months later, to a couple months before, as well as a few flashbacks from years prior.
  • Bait the Dog: We're led to like a few characters who turn out not to be likable at all.
    • Liv, the English teacher runs the cruel gRaCeFULLY blog that spreads rumors about the students.
    • Ben doesn't exist. He was invented by Jeremy as an attempt to connect with Amelia, his daughter. Granted, he had good intentions, but still...
  • Beware the Nice Ones: Kate is a perfectly nice lady who's usually polite to everyone she meets. But after Ian makes one too many suggestive comments about Amelia, she punches him in the face.
  • Birds of a Feather: Ironically used by the Magpies — their first text to new recruits says "birds of a feather flock together", but the Magpies themselves are clearly very different people, leading to a lot of inter-club conflict.
  • Bitch in Sheep's Clothing:
    • Liv, the seemingly nice and funny English teacher, actually runs a blog that spreads malicious gossip about the students.
    • Dylan is polite and amiable, but she doesn't hesitate to ditch Amelia when Zadie outs her. In this case, it's less "bitchy" and more "incredibly weak-willed and flaky."
  • Bittersweet Ending: Very, very bittersweet. Kate finds out the truth about what happened to Amelia, and is able to clear her name on the plagiarism accusation. Sylvia is getting help and is genuinely remorseful for what happened. Zadie has been sent to a strict school for troubled girls, and Adele no longer has a hold over Grace Hall like she used to. The clubs at Grace Hall have been dissolved for good. Kate finally found out for sure who Amelia's father is. Despite all that, Amelia is still dead, and Kate's still very deeply in grieving over her loss, though she's slowly recovering and able to go back to living her life again.
  • Bookworm: Amelia loves reading.
  • Break the Cutie: Happens to Amelia after she joins the Magpies. She dies just as it seems she might be able to recover and become her old self again. Also, Kate, after Amelia dies.
  • Butch Lesbian: Amelia.
  • Cain and Abel: Amelia (sweet, bookish, and innocent) and Zadie (cruel, rebellious, and controlling) are revealed to be half-sisters, and their relationship is extremely antagonistic. It's unclear whether Zadie knew they were related (her mother suspected it, and pushed Zadie to invite Amelia into the Magpies for this reason, but it's never specified if she told Zadie this), but Amelia definitely didn't, and dies before she can find out.
  • Central Theme: Keeping secrets and avoiding difficult discussions does more harm than good.
  • Chekhov's Gun: Those nude photos of Amelia...
  • Chekhov's Gunman: ...Which were taken by Ian, making him this.
  • Clingy Jealous Girl: Zadie is very protective of Dylan, and dislikes anyone else that steals her attention. How platonic this is is up for debate.
  • Cool Teacher: Liv, who then proceeds to subvert it to hell and back when it's revealed she's behind the gRaCeFULLY blog.
  • Cute Bookworm: Amelia's very pretty, and a huge literature nerd.
  • Despair Event Horizon: Kate crosses it when Amelia dies, and falls into a crippling depression. The end of the story implies she may be recovering, albeit slowly.
  • Driven to Suicide:
    • The official story about what happened to Amelia. Kate strongly suspects this was not the case, and gets some anonymous texts telling her it isn't. She's right.
    • Following Amelia's death, Kate is so depressed, she actively contemplates killing herself, even working out the details of how and where she'd do it. She doesn't go through with it.
  • Elaborate University High: Justified, as Grace Hall is an extremely expensive private school in Brooklyn.
  • Even Evil Has Loved Ones: As awful as Zadie is, she does really care about her best friend, Dylan, and she also seems to genuinely like her stepfather.
  • Forced Out of the Closet: Amelia, thanks to Zadie taking a video of Amelia and Dylan naked together. Dylan dodges this because Zadie deliberately shot the footage in a way that kept Dylan's face out of frame.
  • Foreshadowing:
    • The fact that the gossip blog gRaCeFULLY is actually run by Liv, the teacher is foreshadowed early on by a fairly innocuous conversation when we find out Liv submitted a piece by Amelia to a contest, which she won, without her permission. This demonstrates that she's willing to not just bend, but outright break the rules for her own benefit.
      • It's also foreshadowed by the fact that the blog seems to say a lot of nice things about Liv... not to mention the fact that the blog knows anything about the teachers anyway, information a student likely wouldn't be privvy to.
    • When Kate is visited by a member of the PTO named Adele Goodwin shortly after Amelia dies there's a throwaway line about how she thought Amelia's Mismatched Eyes were so pretty. The woman is actually Zadie's mother, who uses this knowledge to confirm that Amelia's father was also Jeremy.
    • Also the scene where Zadie specifically introduces her stepfather becomes this in hindsight.
    • "What if that boy had something to do with what happened to Amelia?" He did, but indirectly. The boy was Ian, Sylvia's boyfriend, and he and Amelia were taking a nude picture of Amelia for the Magpies's blog. Ian was partially visible in the picture. While on the roof with Amelia, Sylvia saw the picture, thought Amelia was sleeping with her boyfriend, started screaming, got violent, and pushed her by mistake.
    • Jeremy being so supportive and helpful to Kate, both before and after Amelia dies. It's not just because Kate is his friend and valued employee — she's the mother of his child! Jeremy's fondness of Amelia and his willingness to help Kate get justice for her death makes even more sense when you realize Jeremy knows Amelia is his daughter.
    • Early on, Sylvia snarkily says that for all Amelia knows, her online BFF Ben could be a serial killer or something. It's not anywhere near that bad, but it does turn out that "Ben" isn't at all who he says he is.
  • Foregone Conclusion: Amelia falls off the roof of her school and dies.
  • For Want of a Nail: There are so many things that, had they not happened, Amelia might not have died.
    • If Amelia had never joined the Magpies, the nude picture taken by Ian wouldn't exist and Sylvia wouldn't have pushed her.
    • Had the photographer been anyone but Ian, Sylvia wouldn't have pushed Amelia.
    • Had Amelia's paper not been switched out for a plagiarized one, Sylvia wouldn't have taken Amelia around a tour of the school to cheer her up, and she and Sylvia wouldn't have been on the roof in the first place.
    • Had Kate gotten to the school sooner, Amelia might not have had a chance to sneak off, and never would've made it to the roof.
    • Had Liv owned up to running the blog, Woodhouse could've cracked down on the clubs sooner and put an end to the Magpies before Amelia ever joined.
    • Had Amelia not had to babysit for Kelsey that night, she could've gone out to dinner with Kate, told her everything, and been persuaded to leave the Magpies.
    • Had Kelsey told Kate about Ian as soon as she saw, Kate could've talked to Amelia about it and Amelia could've told her everything and been persuaded to leave the Magpies.
  • Frame-Up: The truth about Amelia's "plagiarized" term paper, since one of the Maggies is Liv's office assistant and deliberately switched it with one pulled off the internet specifically to get her in trouble. Kate eventually finds Amelia's original paper after her death and exonerates her.
  • Free-Range Children: Explored, as Amelia was not really this growing up (she had a nanny, but by the time the story takes place she's stopped working for them) but other parents and kids perceived her as this. The real free range children are the leaders of the Magpies, specifically Zadie and Dylan, whose parents are well aware of what they're doing but aren't stopping them.
  • Friend Versus Lover: Amelia vs. basically any guy Sylvia's currently going after at that moment. Also, Amelia vs. Zadie, in regards to Dylan, though neither Dylan nor Amelia want the conflict — it's Zadie that keeps antagonizing Amelia. And hoo boy, does it get ugly.
  • Gay Best Friend:
    • Seth is Kate's — she was also his Last Het Romance.
    • Ben is Amelia's. Amelia sardonically notes in her narration that right when she thought maybe there was a guy out there for her, he revealed that he was gay. Subverted, as Amelia turns out to be a lesbian herself. And then inverted, kind of, when it's revealed that Jeremy is Ben, and is, of course, not gay. And Amelia's father.
  • Gayngst: Seth, who was Kate's last boyfriend before he realized he was gay explains that this was why it took him so long to come out. Amelia, too, experiences this, but more because she's outed against her will in a traumatic fashion.
  • Gender-Blender Name: Dylan, which means that Kate doesn't immediately realize that the "boy" Amelia was seeing was actually a girl until she's told.
  • Glamorous Single Mother: Kate averts this, even though she's clearly well-off and she and Amelia live comfortably, in that not only is it clearly very hard to balance her work and life (to the point that it's usually not) but she receives quite a bit of ridicule for it too from the other parents.
  • Good Girls Avoid Abortion: Subverted. While Kate did choose to keep her unplanned baby despite her being very young, unmarried, and in school, and was very glad she did keep Amelia in the end, she did seriously consider abortion while she was pregnant, to the point of actually going to the clinic, but was never able to go through with it. Most people, especially her mother, seemed to think abortion was the right choice for Kate, at least at the time.
  • Good Parent: Kate, though she obviously has a lot of trouble balancing work with Amelia. She admits she lucked out big time that Amelia's such a good kid.
  • Good with Numbers: Dylan loves math and is often doing soduku in her spare time.
  • Green-Eyed Monster: Adele hates Kate because, allegedly, Jeremy was going to leave his wife for Adele before Kate came into the picture. Whether this is actually true is unclear.
  • Hair of Gold, Heart of Gold: Amelia is blonde, and is also smart, funny, and good-hearted.
  • Head-in-the-Sand Management: The staff at Grace Hall, who are unwilling to do anything about the clubs despite knowing about them. This turns out to be because Adele Goodwin is making them by holding legal leverage over them, and Woodhouse has been working behind the scenes to break her hold over them.
  • Heroes Want Redheads: Amelia falls in love with the red-haired Dylan.
  • In with the In Crowd: Being asked to join the Magpies is a big deal. Despite thinking most of the rules and traditions are stupid, and outright loathing the leader, Zadie, Amelia sticks around, both out of a desire to be part of a cool, elite club, and because she's slowly falling for Dylan.
  • Jerkass:
    • Zadie. Good God, Zadie. Really, you could make a case for Sylvia, too, though Sylvia does at least have the saving grace of genuinely caring for Amelia, even if she sucks at showing it. Zadie does care for Dylan, but it doesn't stop her from bullying her.
    • Special mention to Gretchen, Kate's mother, who encourages her to "look on the bright side." You know, the bright side of her daughter dying.
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Jeremy is a complicated case. Yes, he's a serial cheater and a bit of a sleazebag, but he genuinely cares about Kate and Amelia. And while pretending to be Ben definitely wasn't okay, he did it because he wanted to get to know Amelia, his daughter.
  • Keeping Secrets Sucks: Does it ever!
    • Amelia has an extremely difficult time keeping all her secrets in line as she gets more and more involved with the Magpies, and is relieved to tell Sylvia a couple. Unfortunately, the one secret she didn't tell Sylvia is the one that gets her killed. Throughout, she hates having to lie to her mother, as she's never really done that before.
    • Kate clearly isn't proud of lying to Amelia about her paternity, and deeply regrets that she never told Amelia the truth before she died.
  • Lipstick Lesbian: Dylan.
  • Love Hurts: Basically the story of Sylvia's life. And also Amelia's, when it comes to Dylan.
  • Luke, I Am Your Father: Played with multiple times. Amelia was told that her father was a young man her mother had an uncharacteristic fling with prior to him leaving on a mission to Africa, but starts to wonder after she gets an anonymous text saying that's not the case. Kate, on the other hand, knows or rather, believes, that it's actually Daniel Moore, while her boss Jeremy figures out it's actually him after he realizes that Amelia has Waardenburg Syndrome like he does. Adele Goodwin makes the same connection. Kate thought it was Daniel because she'd had sex with him several times, and with Jeremy only once. Also it turns out the young man on a mission to Africa actually did exist, but this happened well before Amelia was conceived so there's no way he's her father. Amelia never lives to find out the truth.
  • Mismatched Eyes: Amelia has these, which causes Zadie to call her "crazy eyes". It actually ends up being important because this was how Jeremy and Adele realized he was actually her father.
  • My Beloved Smother: Dylan's, whose mother controls nearly every aspect of her life. Conversely, she's perfectly fine with Dylan putting up images of herself in lingerie on the internet. Kate does not hesitate to point out that this means she's complicit in her daughter making child porn of herself.
  • My God, What Have I Done?:
    • Sylvia, literally seconds after she pushes Amelia. She attempts to save her, but it's too late.
    • Kelsey also has a mild case of this, when she realizes the boy she saw going into Amelia's house with her, that she never told Kate about, might've had something to do with her death. A mild case, because Kelsey couldn't have possibly known what would happen. Plus, the boy's role in Amelia's death was indirect, but still important.
  • Named After Somebody Famous: Zadie Smith is probably a reference to the author of the same name, and like the author also lives in New York.
  • Nice Girl: Amelia, which makes her stand out among Zadie, Sylvia, and most of the Magpies.
  • Never Suicide: One of the central questions is whether Amelia jumped off the roof or was pushed, and if the latter, who did it. Turns out she was pushed, and it was none other than Sylvia, but it was an accident after the two got into an argument.
  • Not Me This Time: Despite everything else she did do, Zadie did not actually push Amelia off the roof. And she's downright insulted when people (including her own mother) think she did.
  • Odd Friendship:
    • Amelia and Sylvia - a bookworm, hockey-playing goody-two-shoes and a fashion plate who Really Gets Around.
    • Odder still, Dylan and Zadie. A sweet, friendly math geek and the school's resident "wild child," who's also a major Jerkass.
  • Once More, with Clarity!: A number of scenes become this once we see them from Amelia's perspective instead of Kate's, the most prominent being the scene in the first chapter where Amelia asks Kate if she can go to Paris on exchange.
  • Outliving One's Offspring: Amelia dies when she's only fifteen, leaving her mother Kate behind.
  • Out-of-Character Alert: One of the main reasons Kate doesn't quite believe the official story that Amelia was caught cheating, spurning her into an impulsive suicide, is that Amelia's far too good a kid to cheat. More to the point, Amelia's far too good at reading and writing to have to cheat on an English paper. She's right. While Amelia was getting up to all sorts of not-so-good things with the Magpies, she was still a good kid, and clearly uncomfortable with the whole thing anyway, and she did not cheat on the paper. Kate finds proof later.
  • Poisonous Friend: Zadie to Dylan. Zadie genuinely cares about Dylan, but it doesn't stop her from doing some nasty things for "Dylan's own good."
  • Poor Communication Kills: See Central Theme. So much heartache could've been avoided if these people would've just talked to each other.
    • Most notably, Amelia probably wouldn't have died if she'd told Kate about the Magpies. Or if she'd been honest when the headmaster asked her about it.
    • Amelia likely wouldn't have been as shaken by the texts she received if Kate had been more honest about Amelia's paternity. Amelia always suspected the story Kate told her wasn't quite right, so the text just confirms it. To be fair, Kate didn't know the truth about Amelia's father either. Which brings us to our next point...
    • Jeremy could've spared himself and others a lot of pain if he'd just said five words: "Kate, I am Amelia's father."
  • Posthumous Character: Amelia's death takes place very close to the beginning of the book and the rest of her scenes are flashbacks.
  • Really Gets Around: Sylvia has slept with 9 people in 4 years by the time the story begins.
  • Red Herring: For most of the book, we're led to believe that Zadie pushed Amelia off the roof. Turns out that was actually Sylvia Golde.
  • Sanity Slippage:
    • Amelia, after she's outed by Zadie.
    • Sylvia appears to be in the midst of one in Kate's storyline, which makes sense seeing as how her best friend of eleven years just died. It makes even more sense after you find out Sylvia's the one that pushed her off the roof in the first place.
  • Schoolgirl Lesbians: Dylan and Amelia.
  • Shared Unusual Trait: Three related characters in the story have Waardenburg syndrome, but who they are isn't immediately obvious because it's expressed in different ways: Jeremy's hair went grey early, Amelia has heterochromia and Zadie has a Skunk Stripe.
  • Sibling Rivalry: Zadie and Amelia's relationship becomes a seriously twisted case of this, once you know the truth about everything.
  • Sibling Yin-Yang: Zadie and Amelia couldn't be less alike if they tried.
  • Silk Hiding Steel: Tempest, the "badass ballerina" that joins the Magpies. This quality is why Zadie likes her.
  • Skipping School: Amelia does this at least twice in the novel. Neither incident ends well. In fact, both incidents have a hand in setting off the chain of events that lead to her death.
    • First, she goes as part of a "game" set up by the Magpies to take nearly-nude photos. The photographer is Ian, Sylvia's boyfriend.
    • The second time, she isn't technically skipping, as she goes during a free period, but she's still cutting it close by going to her house to hook up with Dylan. Zadie follows them, and films a video of them naked together.
  • Skunk Stripe: Zadie has a white lock of hair. This is actually a clue that she and Amelia share a father.
  • Slut-Shaming: All over the place among the kids and adults. Just about every issue of gRaCeFULLY features at least one bit of gossip about who's sleeping with who. Amelia's friend Sylvia in particular is almost constantly facing this given her lengthy series of boyfriends. And then Amelia herself, when both the video of her naked on the floor with Dylan (shot by Zadie so Dylan's face isn't visible) and the lingerie photoshoot are spread around the school.
  • Sorry, I'm Gay: One of the first conversations between Ben and Amelia mentions he's gay. Jeremy explains when he's revealed to be Ben that he did this specifically to make sure nothing inappropriate took place, since besides the obvious age difference Amelia is actually his daughter.
  • Teens Are Monsters:
    • Grace Hall has a history of unauthorized student clubs doing terrible things to other kids, which is why they are officially banned. The Magpies, at least, require their members to do things like steal answer keys and harass teachers, and the inter-group conflict can get downright toxic.
    • Zadie Smith is an extremely aggressive bully, who leads a school-wide hazing session when she outs Amelia as a lesbian.
  • Tomboy and Girly Girl: Amelia and Sylvia have this dynamic, though Sylvia's constantly trying to make Amelia seem girlier.
  • Totally Radical: the actual teenagers mostly avoid this in their dialog and texts, which sound just about right as far as the time period (late 2013), but a popular (and unauthorized by the school) gossip blog called gRaCeFULLY is full of this. It turns out to be a clue that the blog is run not by a student, but a teacher, specifically Liv, who explains herself by saying she did it as a way to connect with the kids. Also subverted later by Ben, who avoids this so it's significantly harder to tell that he's actually Jeremy.
  • Walking Spoiler:
    • There's very little you can say about Dylan that doesn't relate to most of the twists and turns in the book.
    • It's also pretty hard to talk about Ben without getting into spoilers, once you know the truth about him.
  • Was It All a Lie?: What Amelia begins to wonder about Dylan once The Reveal happens, and we never get an answer either way.
  • Wham Line:
    • In-Universe: "Amelia didn't jump."
    • Also In-Universe: "Dylan Crosby isn't a boy. She's a girl."
    • Jeremy's, "I'm Ben."
  • Yandere: Zadie is a platonic (maybe) version of this towards her best friend Dylan. She really doesn't like it when people get too close to her.


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