Book Review

Book Review: Feeling Sorry for Celia by Jaclyn Moriarty.

FeelingSorryLife is pretty complicated for Elizabeth Clarry. Her best friend Celia keeps disappearing, her absent father suddenly reappears, and her communication with her mother consists entirely of wacky notes left on the fridge. On top of everything else, because her English teacher wants to rekindle the “Joy of the Envelope,” a Complete and Utter Stranger knows more about Elizabeth than anyone else. But Elizabeth is on the verge of some major changes. She may lose her best friend, find a wonderful new friend, kiss the sexiest guy alive, and run in a marathon. So much can happen in the time it takes to write a letter….

A No. 1 bestseller in Australia, this fabulous debut is a funny, touching, revealing story written entirely in the form of letters, messages, postcards-and bizarre missives from imaginary organizations like The Cold Hard Truth Association. Feeling Sorry for Celia captures, with rare acuity, female friendship and the bonding and parting that occurs as we grow. Jaclyn Moriarty’s hilariously candid novel shows that the roller coaster ride of being a teenager is every bit as fun as we remember-and every bit as harrowing.

Contemporary YA is one of my absolute favourite age band / genre match ups, as much of a geek as I am this is always my default book selection when I’m not sure what I want to read. Epistolary fiction is another of my great loves, so this book sounded like it would suit my reading tastes very well when I first heard about it.

The story is recounted solely through written communications, some are between real people – Elizabeth and her mother communicate frequently by notes left for one another, whereas some are from imaginary committees or groups either berating or praising Elizabeth for the way she’s living her life. This structure works well to tell the story, there’s always a risk with epistolary fiction that it can leave the reader feeling a little short changed – letters can sometimes only scratch the very surface of a story resulting in a more shallow read. This book completely avoids that, I think the reasons for this are two fold. The first is the imaginary organisations’ letters – Elizabeth’s personality and feelings about herself and her identity become increasingly clear through these letters, I felt that I really got to understand her through them. The second is the letters Elizabeth and her new penfriend Christina share. The fact they are complete strangers means that they are incredibly honest in their letters to one another which gives a surprising depth to their relationship.

Elizabeth reminded me so much of myself as a teen, and if I’m completely honest as a younger adult too. There is much discussion about with it means to be a true teenager, I know I spent all of my teenage years feeling somewhat deficient as the things that motivated and interested me were very different to most of my peers. I think this would have been a really important book to me as a teen, seeing someone expressing the same sorts of thoughts and feelings would have been a real comfort. I’m sure there are so many teens out there who feel this way, I hope they find this book and enjoy being able to see themselves within its pages.

Christina’s story is also one that I found myself very invested in, and appreciated the deft way it was handled. During the book Christina experiences questions about her relationship, about sex and intimacy. I wasn’t expecting this book to deal with any such issues and the fact it did and did so very well added a lot to the book. The open nature of her letter writing to Elizabeth worked really well for this.

This book is funny, and sweet, and smart all at the same time. It feels very realistic and the various characters jump off the page. It’s the first in a set of books all set within the high schools attended by Elizabeth and Christina, I thoroughly enjoyed this one so have every intention of reading the rest. I am really grateful to lovely author Kaz Mahoney who told me about this author, she’s definitely a new favourite!

Feeling Sorry for Celia is published by Macmillan Children’s Books. My copy of the book is one I purchased myself.

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