Monday, February 7, 2011

The Year of Secret Assignments, by Jacklyn Moriarty: Adventures in Pen Pal-ing around town (Down Under)

The Year Of Secret AssignmentsThe Year of Secret Assignments
by Jaclyn Moriarty
New York: Scholastic, 2005.
ISBN: 0-439-49882-1

      Ashbury school 10th graders Emily, Cass, and Lydia are dismayed to learn that their English class will be required to participate in a Pen Pal project with Brookfield, a school they believe is populated by delinquents. Thus begins this delightful epistolary tale of their unusually funny, imaginative, and supportive friendship over the school year. Emily, an amusingly consistent misuser of words that sound the same but have incredibly different meanings, is assigned to Charlie. Puckish Lydia, who wants nothing but to be a writer, is assigned to soccer-obsessed Seb. Athletic Cassie is recovering from the loss of her father, and becomes fascinated by her pen pal, Matthew Dunlop, who tells her to get lost in some strong language in his reply. Friendships, then romance blossoms, as do challenges, or the titular secret assignments that seem orchestrated to disrupt the school day. But one of the boys is not who he says he is, the rivalry between the schools escalates, and the girls and their new friends seek their revenge on the imposter before the pen pal project is eliminated for good! This fast paced book is recommended for grades 7-10. Book talk hook: read Emily and Charlie's first letters to each other and follow with a very brief summary, ending on a "what will happen now?"

Dear Australia,
Since this is an epistolary letter, I think this is a great time to take advantage of the style and send my thoughts about this book/your awesome YA scene to you via fauxmail. As in, I'm typing them right here. Firstly, seriously, this book is such. a. delight. Maybe I was reading a lot of Debbie Downer type books leading up to reading this (okay, it was King Downer the Incredible: The Road), but man did I enjoy reading this! It is definitely fast-paced, but I couldn't put it down! Jaclyn Moriarity is tres funny. She captures the loyalty, compassion, creativity, and yes, the righteousness and silliness of teenage girls aptly. I loved Emily's sound-alike misspeaks (There is totally a literary term for this. Literary nerds, chime in now or forever hold your peas.), possibly because I have a strong feeling it would be something I may have done... I love how the slow build of the relationships across mail/email allows for a sweet smolder; it totally made me yearn for the bygone days of AIM flirtations and totally tame high school games of less Truth and more Dare. Plus, who doesn't love a good pen pal story?
But back to you, Australia. Seriously. What is up with some super duper awesome YA coming from your vast shores? Melina Marchetta, Jacyln Moriarty, Justine Larbalestier, Marcus Zusak, etc. You keep me entertained, titillated, and occasionally in awe. I haven't actually read any Marcus Zusak yet. BUT I WILL! And you and I both know I'll love it, Australia. So keep up the good work, Australia(n authors).
Truly, Madly, Deeply,

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