The Year of Secret Assignments
By Jaclyn Moriarty
Athur A. Levine Books, 2004
The Year of Secret Assignments is a young adult general fiction novel, set in an private high school in Australia. It is the second book in the loosely connected Ashbury/Brookfield series. As with the other books in this series, the entire story is told entirely through notes, diary entries, emails, and other bits of text created by the characters.
Lydia, Emily, and Cassie have been friends since they were in first grade, and are pretty much inseparable. This year they are all taking Mr. Botherit's English class -- the same that another student took last year, as chronicled in Feeling Sorry For Celia -- and once again the class will be doing a pen pal project with the nearby public school, Brookfield.
Lydia writes a surreal letter in which she mentions in passing that she is a fish and that her pen pal should send her dope to sell. He takes her literally, but he is suspicious that she is a narc, so he sets of some tests (pranks) to prove that she is trustworthy. She's up for it.
Emily writes a ditzy letter to her pen pal, and he is somewhat bemused and underwhelmed by her and by the assignment as a whole. He brushes her off somewhat rudely, but she isn't going to stand for that.
Cassie writes a somewhat wandering but heartfelt letter, and her pen pal tells her to "Eat shit and die". This does not deter her in the least, which leads to some significant problems later on.
The story primarily focuses on the the relationships between the girls and their pen pals, but also slowly uncovers the history of their friendship and their own histories and families, which are diverse, interesting, and often amusing. The use of primary documents to tell the story gives the reader a slow and uneven (and sometimes unreliable) view of the characters, which keeps things interesting. Needless to say, there is plenty of high-school drama, and the secret assignments get somewhat out of hand.
Overall, this is a fun read, mostly light and fairly quick. It is more polished than Feeling Sorry for Celia, but Moriarty keeps the overall feeling of interesting but normal kids in a world that insists on sliding a out of control in amusing, and sometimes scary, ways. As with the other books in the series, it is strongly targeted at teenagers, but is enjoyable for older readers as well.
The Ashbury/Brookfield series is fairly disjointed, and the books can be read in any order. However, chronologically the first book in the series was Feeling Sorry for Celia, and the next one is The Murder of Bindy Mackenzie.