Fourteen-year-old Iris Dupont lost her best friend to suicide. She struggles to deal with this reality, so in an effort to help Iris move on, her parents move the family from Boston to the small New England town of Ney and enroll her at Mariana Academy, a prep school with a storied past.
Iris and her parents move into the home of former Mariana head master, Elliott Morgan. She takes up residence in his daughter Lily’s bedroom. Lily, an albino, had been a student at Mariana thirteen years prior. She left Mariana abruptly, the details of which are a mystery.
Iris aspires to be a journalist. She channels the spirit of Edward R. Murrow, who gives her advice, often unsolicited. At Mariana, she becomes intrigued by an unconventional biology teacher, Jonah Kaplan, who is also a Mariana alumnus. Kaplan is more interested in teaching his students about individualism and nonconformity than mitosis.
Iris joins the staff of the school newspaper, and through her determined investigative efforts, she uncovers scandalous school legends and a secret society called Prisom’s Party. These vigilantes were a band of bullied social outcasts bent on justice and retribution. Has the Party been resurrected from The Trench, the mysterious bowels of Mariana? And doesn’t everyone have something to hide?
Through the alternating viewpoints of Iris, Kaplan, and Lily, author Miller reveals the intricate story of Jonah Kaplan and his twin brother Justin; fragile Lily, and the ruthless Hazel Greenburg. Justin dies in a tragic car accident. Who is responsible? Ultimately, everyone plays a role. The reader is reminded that even if one tries to escape a guilty past, one’s actions never really disappear. No one can run forever. There are always consequences. Injustice is eventually exposed.
Jennifer Miller’s debut novel, The Year of the Gadfly is well-written with unique characterization and an intriguing plot. The setting — small-town New England in winter and a stuffy prep school with imposing stone buildings — feels hard and cold, a perfect metaphor for Iris’s state of mind. Mystery infuses the story as the interpersonal relationships between the characters, spanning both 1999 and 2012, are revealed, layer upon layer. Highly recommended for adults and mature YA readers.