The Murder of Bindy Mackenzie by Jaclyn Moriarty
I'm so sorry to write what I'm about to write. I loved Jaclyn Moriarty's Feeling Sorry for Celia and liked her Year of Secret Assignments. I was so looking forward to reading this one. And now I have a terribly letdown feeling, because frankly, it was just not fun to read. At almost 500 pages, it was a long slog, even though it's written in journal format, which usually means a book reads more quickly.
Bindy Mackenzie is an extraordinarily intelligent girl in what would be her junior year in high school if she lived in the U.S. instead of Australia. She is also one of the least liked girls in her school, although she tries to be helpful and friendly to everyone. The trouble is, Bindy's people skills aren't as well developed as her study skills, so her fellow students don't see her as being friendly and helpful. They see her as being condescending, overbearing, too smart for her own good, and at least a little strange. And you know what? She is. As I read this story, even hearing it from Bindy's point of view, I agreed with her classmates. If I'm going to read 500 pages of a novel, I want to like the person I'm reading about. And I didn't. Now, don't get me wrong. I didn't hate her. I just found her irritating and remarkably clueless about herself and her family. We often hear that journaling helps people find clarity and understand themselves better. But Bindy occasionally writes things in her journal (particularly in a section she calls her life story) that are pretty revealing if you have the least bit of ability to read between the lines. Apparently, as good a student as she is, this is not one of her skills, because things that raise flags for the reader (which include six fellow students in her FAD - Friendship and Development - group, not just the person reading the book) don't trigger any sort of reaction in her at all. She truly is clueless about herself and her family, and frankly, that was as annoying as it was (to me) unlikely. She's too smart not to pick up on such obvious clues.
Bindy has always been a top student - until this year. This year, things have changed. Not only has she moved in with her aunt and uncle, but her grades are plummeting and she often feels tired and sick. She refuses to see the doctor. Among other reasons, she's afraid he'll tell her she has glandular fever [aka mononucleosis], and only teenagers get that. Bindy believes she isn't a teenager. Bindy's school is trying a new class this year for Year Eleven students. It's called Friendship and Development, and it's supposed to be a support group for students, since Year Eleven is such a difficult year (like junior year here!). Bindy thinks the group is a total waste of time (and writes to the education authorities to say so - three times). Included in her FAD group are Elizabeth (from Feeling Sorry for Celia and Emily (from Year of Secret Assignments, Toby, who she used to be friendly with in elementary school, Astrid (who Bindy has an unpleasant history with), and Finnegan, a new student and her assigned buddy. (On page 430, I was still waiting for her to admit that she has a crush on Finnegan and to find out if the feeling was mutual.) On the first day of FAD, the class is asked to write a sentence about each person in the class. Bindy is crushed and angry to see what they write about her, and she doesn't handle it well. Her methods of retaliation backfire on her big time, and she eventually realizes she needs to apologize. She also realizes she hasn't done some assignments for her FAD teacher. To make up the work, she writes her life story for her FAD teacher. It is this assignment that her fellow FAD students later find, read, and decide is evidence that someone is trying to murder Bindy. (The evidence: she's tired, she can't concentrate, those plummeting grades, a strange mania for the word Cincinnati). After all, they reason, a lot of people have reason to want her out of their lives, including 1) the student she ratted out for drug use, 2) the students who can no longer use the school's intranet to share files because Bindy ratted them out, 3) the teachers she overheard having an argument that turns physical, 4) the principal, because he's tired of all the messages she sends him, or 5) her aunt and uncle, who need her room for the new baby. Is Bindy's life really in danger? Is she really being poisoned? It could be.
But this book isn't really a mystery, let alone a murder mystery. In Australia, where it was first published, the book is titled Becoming Bindy, and that really is what the book is about. Bindy understands so little about herself at the beginning of the school year, and she learns so much about herself (and other people!) by the end of it. She has become a new person.
Does this book have the same trademark humor that marked Moriarty's previous two books? I didn't think so. But reviews on Amazon.co.uk and Amazon.com disagree with me. They found a lot more humor in it than I did (I did find some, though!). Overall, they like it more than I did. I'm really interested to hear what other people thought about this book, especially teens. In the meantime, I want to go back and read the other two books again, and I will still wait impatiently for the next Jaclyn Moriarty book!