Review: Amelia Anne is Dead and Gone by Kat Rosenfield

Amelia Anne is Dead and Gone by Kat Rosenfield. Dutton Books, 2012. Currently Available.

Genre: Mystery

Face Value: It’s tonally appropriate, and creepy, that’s for sure. But an obscured image of a dead girl with a flower between her legs? No thank you.

Does it Break the Slate? NO. No it doesn’t. There are good qualities to this book, but none of them involve the strength of its female characters. Becca is a character in transition – but instead of rising to the occasion, she wallows in her uncertainty. Amelia is moving towards pursuing her dreams – and gets killed for it.

Who would we give it to? I, personally, wouldn’t give this book to anybody. It’s gotten good reviews other places though, so I am certain there is an audience for it somewhere.

Review: I had high hopes for this book. Mysteries aren’t typically my genre, but I heard good things from reviewers that I really respect. But after finishing Amelia Anne is Dead and Gone, I was appalled by the glamorizing of her violent murder and the patronizing look at small town life.

The book starts out like this:

“The night before Amelia Anne Richardson bled her life away on a parched dirt road outside of town, I bled out my dignity in the back of a pickup truck under a star-pricked sky.”

Flowery language aside, there’s a lot to find fault with here. Right out of the gate, this book is suggesting an inevitable parallel between a girl’s death and a girl’s chastity. These parallels set up in sentence one keep going throughout the book, as Amelia’s death seems more and more inevitable, and inextricably linked with sex, passion, and wanting something more than what she had.

Aside from that, Rosenfield’s prose is over-the-top, florid and indulgent. That “star-pricked sky” line mentioned above is followed up with lines like this only a page later, that not only reuse the same clichés, but add more double entendre for good measure:

“James turned the truck down a rutted road through the woods, into an open field and parked with a jolt on the rough grass.

Parked under a wide-open sky pricked by thousands of stars.

Parked his hand between my legs and half threw me out the tiny back window and into the flatbed, where my feet flew over my head and I scrambled for purchase on slippery steel.”

Rarely is one word used when four could be, whether it’s a “hot, beautiful, stagnant summer” or “the sense of something changing, of a different life stirring and awakening, and unfolding its untested legs, gripped her with feverish intensity. “ or “the clicking keys of students at work, the cacophony of a cafeteria with no shushing chaperones or watchful adults; the crunch of future feet over fallen leaves shot through with orange and ochre.” These are all lovely words, but when smashed together without any space in between, it can be hard to breathe through them.

Then there’s they way the women’s bodies are talked about. Take this description of Amelia’s body, after her death:

“Stan’s gesturing hand passed over the woman – the life wrung out in bruises beneath her eyes, soaking and blooming and drying in the dirt, as he waved his palm over her breasts and the curve of her hip and her delicate, motionless face. Rice-paper skin slack over hard, hard bone. Even like this, you could see that she’d been pretty”

Like the crime shows that populate cable tv in reruns, there’s a constant sexualizing of this girl’s corpse, reminding us over and over again how pretty she’d been, and how destroyed her body is now, with an almost gleeful grimness. The morbid curiosity of the town is frowned upon, but it’s that same kind of fascinated horror that perpetuates the telling of the story.

In contrast with the story of the dead girl, we have our living protagonist: Becca. Becca is a cliché of a YA heroine. She’s smart (we know this because she was salutatorian, not because of her behavior) and uncertain about the next steps in her life. She has to decide between her boyfriend and her future. Sometimes we see this type of character become fully realized over the course of a book. But in this case it feels more like a stereotype brought to life, with no dynamic growth over time. Becca’s aimlessness and hesitation as she negotiates her future is her defining trait. We have no real sense of who she is, only of her observations and her interactions with others, like her boyfriend and her parents. I’m all for flawed characters who experience their own journeys of realization and growth, but that isn’t what happens here. We get a glimpse of “future Becca,” that implies she left her past behind, but no real indication of who she becomes/how she gets there.

I’m curious to hear from others about their thoughts on this book, especially those who loved it. For me, the heavy prose, the hyper-sexualization of murdered girls, and the lack of depth to the characters made it impossible for me to connect with.

Reviewed from Library Copy.

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3 Responses to Review: Amelia Anne is Dead and Gone by Kat Rosenfield

  1. Wow. I had thought Amelia Anne is Dead and Gone sounded like an interesting mystery, but I think after reading your review I will take it off my Goodreads list. I`d read some other great reviews that prompted me to put it on my list in the first place, but I think I`d be turned off by many the same things you were as noted in your review. Particularly, that opening line disturbed me – my mouth actually dropped. I see enough parallels between violence against women and sex (especially chastity) in movies, TV, fashion, etc. I don`t need to see it on my book pages either, unless it critiques it. Also, the writing just seemed too superfluous for me, and combined with the lack of character development I`ve just lost interest in this book.

    Oh well, just means that I get more time to read great books that ARE hopefully slatebreaking 🙂

  2. …”BLED OUT MY DIGNITY?! Holy wow.

    What a bummer, too, since this was the elusive third book that the Obamas bought on Small Business Saturday.

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