Why I Read It:
Next in a series. I'm all caught up in this series now. Yay!!
I should probably start this review by clarifying that I'm not a connoisseur of gothic fiction. I've read a few of the classics -- Wuthering Heights
, Jane Eyre
, etc. -- but I'm not super well-read in the genre. However, regardless of that, it's incredibly easy to enjoy this book.
Cass, Em, and Lydia are back in this installment of the Ashbury/Brookfield series, but they're now in their senior year which means they have to write their HSCs (which are exams that Aussie teens have to take in their senior year in order to determine what universities they're eligible to apply for [I think]). Following the epistolary format of her other novels, Moriarty tells this story through the characters' answers to their English HSC question: a memoir about first-impressions written in a gothic style.
So as I said above, even if you're not that familiar with gothic novels, you'll probably still notice some tropes of the genre present in the characters' answers, sometimes used seriously to draw you in, other times used to hilarious effect. My favourite bits were the ones written by Emily. She's a bit of an air-head sometimes and a huge drama queen, but her bits were hilarious. She over-uses the exclamation point and uses big words wrong in order to give her story an air of grandeur, or describes things as "gothically" to make it more gothic. She had me laughing out loud.
Central to this story are two new characters: Amelia and Riley. They've been a couple since they were fourteen years old and are scholarship students at Ashbury. They attract everyone's attention with their odd behaviour and how they seem to live in their own little world; a world everyone wants in on. Emily becomes especially obsessed with them and wants to know everything about them and to become their friends. This made me laugh because Emily reminded me a lot of myself; I have the unfortunate flaw of being incredibly nosy. I won't butt in other people's business, but I am insatiably curious about everything and everyone. So when I was reading about Amelia and Riley? I needed to know MORE!! I was like Emily -- I was obsessed with these two mysterious people and wanted to know what their deal was. Riley's POV is present in the stories, but he offers only tiny morsels about his and his girlfriend's past (though everything is revealed in due time) and it drove me crazy!! But kept the pages turning pretty quickly.
And you know how I'm always going on about how Moriarty balances her humour with very serious situations as well? This definitely happens in this book too. I find her other three Ashbury/Brookfield books lean more towards the humour side of the scale than the serious, but this time around, probably because of the whole gothic thing, the balance felt like it was shifted more towards the serious. This was perfectly fine though; Emily's over-the-top POV brought enough laughs with Moriarty's trademark humour and the serious bits were really compelling. Some of the big secrets at the end of the book had me gasping (how gothic of me) and going like WHOAA!! (not so gothic of me.) I'm really impressed how Moriarty juggled all these serious themes -- social/class prejudices, love, growing up, graduating, etc. -- within such a strangely formatted novel. Moriarty's books are definitely unique.
Some bits at the very end kind of threw me off. I know that this everything is supposed to be a mix of gothic/horror/ghost story (oh yeah, there's a potential ghost in this book too, did I mention that?) but I never took any of it at face-value. Everything else about this series has been strictly contemporary and set in the real world, but the ending leads us to believe that some crazy supernatural shit went down. A part of me wishes that it had been explained away rationally, but I'm sure there are going to be some people who love the supernatural twist.Final Verdict:
I loved this installment in the Ashbury/Brookfield series. I've read on Moriarty's website that this is going to be the last one for awhile (she's apparently planning on publishing a trilogy) which makes me sad, but at least she finished off with a bang, because this book was gothically delicious. Moriarty once again balances humour with heavy subject matter and does so in a totally unique way. Even if you're not a connoisseur of gothic fiction, the gothic elements in this book were so well done (and a lot of times funny) that I didn't need to be. Also worth noting is that this book may be the fourth installment in a series, but it can be read on its own (like the rest of the series) so even if you haven't read the others, don't let that stop you from picking this up.