Review: Dreaming of Amelia/ The Ghosts of Ashbury High

Dreaming of Amelia by Jaclyn Moriarty. Pan Macmillan Australia. 2009. In the United States, released as The Ghosts of Ashbury High, Arthur A. Levine Books, an imprint of Scholastic, 2010. Reviewed from Australian edition; gift.

The Plot: Amelia Damaski. Riley T. Smith. Two new students at Ashbury High.

How curious, the other students think, to start a new school in the final year. How mysterious, no one knows anything about Amelia or Riley. How romantic, the two are clearly a couple. How cool, they muse, how anything Amelia and Riley touch seems to be that much more important.

Perhaps what people should be thinking is “how dangerous.”

Lydia, Emily, and Cassie and their friends spend their final year of school wondering about Riley and Amelia and figuring out their own lives and loves, with a ghost or two thrown in for good measure.

The Good: It’s Jaclyn Moriarty. ‘Nuff said. I’m a but surprised that while I’ve read (and own) all of Moriarty’s Ashbury High books (Feeling Sorry for Celia, The Year of Secret Assignments, The Murder of Bindy Mackenzie), I’ve only reviewed one of them, Bindy Mackenzie. I’m not going to keep you in suspense, this is a Favorite Book Read in 2010. The entire post is all my reasons why.

Moriarty’s books are about the students at wealthy Ashbury. The tone, spirit, and themes of each book differs; characters shift from main to supporting to absent from book to book; Ashbury remains the same. What also remains the same is the fresh, constantly changing ways to tell the story, using letters, emails, post-its, journal entries, school reports. Because each book is unique and stands alone, you don’t have to read all the other books. Also? Moriarty’s books are FUNNY. It’s a combination of the characters being funny, in their observations and thoughts and what they say, and how Moriarty tells the story.

While funny, Moriarty’s stories are about serious subjects. The Ghosts of Ashbury High (while I read Dreaming of Amelia, I’ll use the US title to be less confusing) addresses an issue that lurked in the background of all the Ashbury books: the socioeconomic differences between the “haves” of Ashbury and the “have nots” of everyone else and the impact of privilege and wealth on the lives and choices of the teens.

The Ghosts of Ashbury High is told in a mix of school exams and reports from the perspectives of various students and teachers. The reader sees how Lydia, Emily, and Cassie see Riley and Amelia, and how Riley and Amelia see the rich, spoiled teens of Ashbury High. Is someone silly or spoiled? Dangerous or wise? What is the truth? It varies from person to person.

Remember how this is told via exams? This adds another layer — all that is learned is told through a lens, a specific lens of the exam. And not just any exam! The instructions: “write a personal memoir….draw on your knowledge of gothic fiction.” “write the story as a ghost story.” If a story is part of an exam, and not just any exam, but a Gothic fiction exam, how does that change how the story is told? Personally, I adore this method of story-telling, the way it’s a puzzle with shifting perspectives, the way the story changes and alters depending on the teller. Yes, for the first fifty or so pages I kept a list of characters because it is a huge cast, but it’s like any group of friends. I quickly got to know them well enough not to need my list.

So, that is one story — how two teens from the “wrong side” of town adjust to Ashbury High and how they impact those around them.

Another story is of a tight group of friends who have been friends forever figuring out how to include two new faces.

Another story is of teenagers on the edge of adulthood, running to and away from their futures.

And, of course, there is the ghost story. Ghosts real and imagined; ghosts created out of want and need. The ghosts of students past.

And there is the history. Tobias’s history project involves researching local history and discovering things about the Irish convicts sent to Australia in the early nineteenth century. Are they the ghosts that haunt the story? Or is that simply the way he tells the story? I love history, so this unexpected bonus — IRISH CONVICTS, yay! — was awesome. I did wonder, a bit, how American teens would react to this bit of history. I read the Australian version which includes a historical note about Castle Hill and the transported Irish convicts. I haven’t read the US version, so I’m not sure what (if anything) was added under the assumption that “oh, Americans won’t know or understand that.”

In looking to see how bloggers wrote about the Australian history aspect of this book, I found this spot-on perfect review at The Book Smugglers, told in pure Moriarty style. If you’ve read Moriarty’s books, you’ll enjoy it; if you haven’t, its the perfect sampler to decide whether it’s your flavor.

3 thoughts on “Review: Dreaming of Amelia/ The Ghosts of Ashbury High

  1. I haven’t yet read this book, however I have read the other 3 Ashbury books and loved them all. Bindy Mackenzie was my favorite by far though. My favorite scene? Near the beginning of the book with Emily, Astrid, and the quest for the Toblerone. I am itching to get my hands on this book. I love how Moriarty tells the story in such a different way than usual and I am excited that my favorite character (EMILY!) is back.
    Another great book by Moriarty but not in the Ashbury series – The Spellbook of Listen Taylor. That was actually the first book of hers that I read. It was shelved in the young adult section but I can’t help but feel that it was more of an adult book. Oh well, I won’t complain because otherwise I might not have read any of the other books!


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