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Literature / The Year of Secret Assignments

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Mr. Botherit is an idiot.
What he has to say is that we have now finished Larkin, so next week, we will begin the Famous Ashbury-Brookfield Pen Pal Project. Specifically, we will write letters to students at Brookfield High, and they will become our pen pals. "And this," he says (whispering for dramatic effect), "will kill two birds with one stone!"
("Don't you dare kill any birds," Sasha Perkins said passionately.)
Mr. Botherit is holding one finger in the air: "A," he is saying, "it will reduce the hostility between our schools! And two," he holds up a second finger, "and two, it will be our stand against the tyranny of technology! By sending letters, we say no to e-mails! No to mobile technology and texting! And yes to the Joy of the Envelope!"

So begins The Year of Secret Assignments by Jaclyn Moriarty, a simple book about three girls (Lydia, Emily, Cassie) writing to three boys (Sebastian, Charlie, and Matthew, respectively.) Oh, except there are the aforementioned secret assignments, along with prank calls and falsely-pulled fire alarms and cars getting broken into.

Also, it's an Epistolary Novel, and a companion to Feeling Sorry for Celia. In some countries, it's known as Finding Cassie Crazy. The following books are The Betrayal Of Bindy Mackenzie and Dreaming Of Amelia.note 


This story provides examples of:

  • Adults Are Useless: Lydia's parents, while Cassie's mother does her best, as does Emily's father.
  • Adult Fear: Your child, who has been very withdrawn and depressed since the death of her parent, takes part in a harmless pen-pal program and winds up matched with a guy who, using a fake identity, threatens her, and later leads her on and does his best to verbally tear her apart for shits and giggles.
  • Babies Make Everything Better: Lydia is unimpressed when Seb mentions that he looks after his baby brother, commenting, "I hope you weren't trying to impress me with that baby stuff. I think all guys should know how to look after a baby, especially if your mother's just had one."
  • Belligerent Sexual Tension: Charlie and Emily, Lydia and Seb, particularly the latter couple.
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  • Big Brother Instinct: Seb to his baby brother.
  • Big Damn Heroes: Cassie, Charlie and Seb bursting in during the climax of the book to save the day.
  • Big Eater: Emily mentions eating a lot, mostly chocolate.
  • Break the Cutie: Cassie started off pretty broken after her dad died, but what happens in the book makes it worse.
  • Brilliant, but Lazy: Lydia passes her Science exam with 98%. According to Emily, she "does that sort of thing when she feels like it."
  • Broken Record: Emily's third letter to Charlie:
    You talk a pile of crap. You talk a pile of crap.
    You talk a pile of crap. You talk a pile of crap.
    You talk a pile of crap. You talk a pile of crap.
    You talk a pile of crap. You talk a pile of crap.
    You talk a pile of crap. You talk a pile of crap.
    You talk a pile of crap. You talk a pile of crap.
    You talk a pile of crap. You talk a pile of crap.
    You talk a pile of crap. You talk a pile of crap.
    You talk a pile of crap. You talk a pile of crap.
    You talk a pile of crap. You talk a pile of crap.
    You talk a pile of crap. You talk a pile of crap.
    You talk a pile of crap. You talk a pile of crap.
    You talk a pile of crap. You talk a pile of crap.
    You talk a pile of crap. You talk a pile of crap.
    Yours faithfully,
    Emily Thompson.
  • Catchphrase: Emily at first has "Don't get me started!" but stops using it after Charlie lampshades and mocks it. Similarly, Charlie uses "Just say the word" before Emily gives him the same treatment.
  • Celeb Crush: Emily asks Cass what her ideal way of being asked out is:
    Cass says that her ideal way would be for the guy to be Brad Pitt and he can just call her up and ask.
  • Character Overlap: Elizabeth and Christina of "Feeling Sorry for Celia" appear briefly.
    • Also Emily mentions a girl in her year who ran away to the circus when on a rant to Charlie, which was what Celia did.
    • Bindy of The Murder of Bindy McKenzie appears to give misinformation on Matthew Dunlop and to transcribe the pseudo-trial at the end of the book.
      • This particular piece turns into Fridge Brilliance when you read The Murder/Betrayal of Bindy McKenzie as it elaborates as to WHY she's this way in this particular book.
  • Chekhov's Gun: In one of the early letters, Lydia mentions that she has a friend with a talent for locks. This friend's talent comes in handy a lot later, when they need to find some evidence.
  • Cloudcuckoo Lander: Lydia. The other two girls have this as well, but Emily seems merely energetic whereas Cassie is just a bit distracted.
  • Cool Bike: One of Charlie's brothers has a motorbike.
  • Crazy-Prepared: Emily. The best example of this is when she's trying to set Charlie up with Christina and suggests "practice dates" such as Kicking a Pebble and Gazing Into A Girl's Eyes.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Lydia and Sebastian. Charlie has shades of this, but mostly because he is the Straight Man to Emily. Cassie has a few moments, too.
  • Determinator: When these girls want to accomplish something, they will stop at nothing.
  • Disappeared Dad: Cassie's dad died a year before the start of the novel, and she's still recovering.
  • Embarrassing Tattoo: Charlie's little sister Jess comes home with a tattoo of barbed wire around her wrist.
  • Foreshadowing: Lydia suggests a contest with Seb where they have to meet at a cafe and figure out who the other person is before the other person figures out who they are, since they don't know what the other one looks like. To aid this, they're allowed to send a photo of something about them, but isn't of them, and ask three questions. While Lydia's questions could all help identify Seb, Seb's are pretty esoteric. It's a clue that he doesn't need identifiers, because he already knows what she looks like.
  • Hard-Drinking Party Girl: Lydia's mother. A lot of it has to do with how she's a washed-up actress.
  • Heroic BSoD: Cassie gets one after she finally meets Matthew Dunlop.
  • Imaginary Friend: For a while, Emily and Lydia think Cassie's pen pal is one of these.
  • Jerkass: Matthew Dunlop, aka Paul Wilson.
  • Knight Templar: Lydia is not happy when she finds out what Matthew Dunlop did to Cassie, and makes every effort to track him down and punish him.
  • Living Emotional Crutch: Cassie mentions in the book that she is trying to stand up on her own without Emily and Lydia's help so much, as she leant on them a lot shortly after her dad died.
  • Loveable Rogue: Seb, who constantly asks Lydia to meet up with him while they are penpals and flirts with her constantly. And when they DO meet up...
  • Malaproper: Emily. Charlie even calls her out on it a few times, though no one else does.
    Emily: The ladies seem to really go for Lydia's dad (Justice Oberman). They love him! :) I have heard tell (from Lydia's mother) that Justice Oberman's name was once a cinnamon for sex god.
  • Massive Numbered Siblings: Charlie has at least three brothers and a little sister.
  • Motor Mouth: Emily, which goes with the territory of being a Genki Girl.
  • No Good Deed Goes Unpunished: Charlie gets a call about how there's a gas leak at Brookfield High, so he immediately alerts everyone and evacuates the school. However, there is no gas at Brookfield High, which he didn't know, so he winds up getting profusely mocked for it.
  • Oblivious Guilt Slinging: During the pseudo-trial, Paul says that he doesn't even know who Cassie is, and she could be a psychopath or something. Bindy then leans over and tells him that no, that's Cassie, her dad died last year and they were really close, so he has to be nice to her or everyone will hate him.
  • Oblivious to Love: Emily manages to miss out on some very obvious hints that Charlie loves her, as she's convinced he's in love with Christina.
  • Poor Communication Kills: Bindy McKenzie says she's heard of a Matthew Dunlop when she's actually confused him with someone else, but this makes it a lot harder for the Lydia and Emily. Since Matthew Dunlop doesn't actually exist.
  • The Quiet One: Cassie's letters are nowhere near as long as Emily or Lydia's.
  • Reality Ensues: When the Brookfield/Ashbury 'war' is going on, the pen-pal exchange program is suspended... so naturally everyone just switches to email.
  • "The Reason You Suck" Speech: Matthew/Paul gives a brutal (and undeserved) one to Cassie a little before Winter Term.
  • Running Gag: Emily constantly getting words wrong, Lydia confusing her stories for real life, and the secret assignments themselves.
  • The Shrink: Cassie's therapist Claire is of the "dopey and ineffective" category, so much so that both Cassie and her mother simultaneously agree to stop seeing her at the end of the book.
  • Sitcom Arch-Nemesis: Emily has some kind of grudge against Bindy, even before the aforementioned communication failure. One brilliant example occurs when Bindy is doing the transcript during the "trial" and asks when it finishes:
    Bindy: When can I stop typing?
    Emily: [sarcastically]] Now would be a good time, Bindy.
  • Smoking Is Cool: Lydia seems to think so.
  • Sudden Downer Ending: In-universe example- all of Lydia's stories end with her suddenly killing off the characters.
  • Tall, Dark, and Snarky: Seb.
  • Trademark Favorite Food: Emily loves chocolate so much that her nickname is Toblerone.
    Emily: I think it is an angiogram of Thompson, actually.
  • Wham Line: The letters from Seb and Charlie that say that there's nobody at Brookfield High called Matthew Dunlop.
  • White-Dwarf Starlet: Lydia's mother, who was in a soap opera and became semi-famous, but her career never went anywhere. She now owns a production studio, but hardly ever does anything with it. She also drinks a lot.


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