Nafiza Recommends: The Ghosts of Ashbury High by Jaclyn Moriarty

The Ghosts Of Ashbury High by Jaclyn Moriarty

Amelia and Riley have transferred to Ashbury for their final year of school, and everyone is completely obsessed with them. Glamorous, talented and totally devoted to one another, the two of them drift through school in their own world. But there’s more to the couple than meets the eye – they have secrets. And some of them are dangerous to share. As Riley starts to lose his grip on Amelia, the repercussions affect everyone around them.

A spellbinding story about ghosts, secrets, madness, passion, locked doors, femme fatales, and that terrifying moment in the final year of high school when you realise that the future’s coming to get you. — [X]

The Ghosts of Ashbury High is such an intriguing book, not just in terms of plot but also in the way the characters are presented and the way Moriarty decided to have the plot unfold. Plus, it’s a gothic novel that plays with the gothic genre and *nervous laughter* in case it wasn’t obvious, I do like that, so yeah, Nafiza got this recommendation right!

As the summary states (rather blandly) the book centres around two newcomers to Ashbury High, the first winners of a scholarship the school is offering, and completely otherworldly. What is interesting is that the story is presented partly through emails between teachers and mainly as part of the HSC English examination on gothic fiction. As a result we have an array of students’ essays, stories, poetry, and blog posts that try to peer into the enigma that is Amelia and Riley (and in Amelia and Riley’s case, peer coolly back) all the while employing the tropes and the language typically used in gothic novels. What’s really clever about the book is how it starts off with students trying to make their personal experiences sound gothic, or attempt to plot out their lives in a way that resemble a novel’s plot, but it isn’t until the end– when Moriarty takes things into her own hands (and thus, out of the characters’ hands)– that their lives truly begin to feel uncannily gothic. So, essentially, what starts off as a loving sort of teasing of the genre turns into an earnest celebration of the drama and the mystery of gothic fiction.

This format is an interesting decision for many reasons. For one, it would delight readers who are familiar with the genre, but for those who aren’t it serves as a fun introduction– sometimes clumsy and overwrought (on purpose) …

The Ghosts of Ashbury High by Jaclyn Moriarty

… and sometimes completely accurate in its representation of the gothic. (Besides, for the people who often complain that YA novels set during high school never really shows characters studying– *eye roll* because that’s so thrilling to read, right– this one is literally months and months of homework and examinations.) For another, it is a great way to introduce characters. From what I understand, this is the fourth book in a series that isn’t so much connected by an overarching plot but through the characters present, but it didn’t feel like I was missing any information because most of the writing is about their personal lives and/or include details about themselves. Emily’s writing, for instance, is a burst of exuberance and melodrama. Emily is not someone who reigns things in or tries to heighten the mystery by holding things back. She is honest (even in her deceptive moments) and is possibly too shiny a character to ever belong in a gothic novel. (Conversely, Emily is the best damn thing to happen to gothic fiction ever. Seriously, I love that kid.) Amelia, on the other hand, is as mysterious as Emily makes her out to be. She embodies several elements of the gothic, whether because of the way she is perceived or because of her reluctance to reveal too much through her poetry, she is the ghost-like presence, an otherworldly femininity … until she isn’t. (Pretty sure the only time we break out of the gothic-y feel of the novel is when we come to learn the truth behind Amelia and Riley. It is a jarring moment but not in a polished, fictional manner. I just wish we’d gotten more bits of Amelia’s writing.)

There are many things to recommend this book– the incredibly clever, funny writing, the wonderfully complex characters, the setting within the setting within the setting (you’ll know what I mean), the unexpected (and somewhat truncated when it comes to indigenous people) Australian history lesson– but nothing comes close to the excellent part on ghosts and black holes, because of course there is a section that connects the gothic with astrophysics. Even if you loathed Castle of Otranto and you hate/d English Lit and you think Amelia and Riley are boring (they are sometimes), you absolutely need to pick it up for that one section. Even if the rest of the book was rubbish (which it is not; it is very much the opposite), that section on ghosts and blackholes was obscenely good. I am not going to spoil it for you. Basically, you need to read this one.

Thanks for the recommendation, Nafiza! <3

4 responses to “Nafiza Recommends: The Ghosts of Ashbury High by Jaclyn Moriarty

    • Well, this is the first of her books I’ve read and it makes me want to read more by her. A good sign, I think. ^_^ Hope you like it!

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