When Lydia, Emily, and Cassie are assigned pen pals among the thugs at Brookfield High, they respond in characteristic style:
Cassie: “Ialways think it’s funny when a teacher tries to be cool. I want to sit them down and say ‘It’s okay, you’re a grown-up, you’re allowed to be a nerd,’ and they will look up at me confused but also relieved and teary-eyed.”
Lydia: “I am a fish. You wouldn’t think so to look at me, what with my uniform and the hair on top of my head and all that. But it’s true. I am a fish.”
Emily: “Don’t get me started about chocolate! My nickname might be ‘Em,’ but sometimes it’s also Toblerone! I think this is an angiogram of Thompson, which is my last name.”
And their pen-pals? Sebastian is an artist, a black belt in Tae Kwan Do, and a major hottie. Charlie is utterly gullible, a car expert/occasional thief, and a really sweet guy. But Matthew is…well, he’s either a psychopath or a figment of Cassie’s imagination, neither of which is a good sign. And what starts out as a simple letter exchange leads to secret assignments, false alarms, lock picking, legal drama, mistaken identities, Dates with Girls, and all-out war between the schools . . . the biggest challenge Lydia, Cass, and Emily’s friendship has ever faced. JaclynMoriarty.com
Note - Finding Cassie Crazy is entitled The Year of Secret Assignments in the US
Review - I just got schooled big time. I maintain a blog devoted to YA and spotlighting great Australian work and not once in the nearly two years of Persnickety Snark's existence have I read a Jaclyn Moriarty title. Now I have...and I feel like a dunderhead for waiting so long.
Finding Cassie Crazy was a tightly plotted, sensitive and chaotic tale of three slightly bonkers students from the exclusive and private Ashbury High. In exchanging letter with three corresponding students from the local public school they are doing the bidding of their English teacher. Initially approached as a throwaway non graded pass task it evolves into much more when friendships emerge and loyalties strengthen. On surface level this book bursts at the seams with bedlam, acts of tomfoolery and hefty doses of random. Once you dive beneath these overwhelming layers you find a strong emotional core that plays out on two planes. One being the letters exchanged and the second being the other forms of written communication that share page time with the letters. This could have been staid - a series of letters, diary entries and emails - but Moriarty presents them in a shuffling order choosing to focus on a specific relationship and at other times on gender groupings. It keeps the reader on their toes, engaged and invested.
It is fantastic to read of a friendship of three girls where the fear of being left out isn't an issue. The Ashbury 3 (Em, Lyd and Cassie) are smart, devious and scarily unpredictable but they also have strong heads on their shoulders. At no point is their friendship in doubt - it just is. The tension isn't in whether their friendship can survive but in how they will overcome their obstacles together. Girls united for the benefit of all.
They've all got their individual problems - Lyd's parents are tremendously self-involved and she possesses destructive tendencies as a result. Cassie's still muddling through the grief that swept through her life the day her father died as well as the antagonist pen pal who won't cut her a break. Lastly, there is Em who knows what she wants but doesn't know if she's built to get there.
Every facet of this story is a series of truth. A character's retelling of an event or interchange shows that bias is a constant presence in this journey. It leads to scenes of disjointedness, information withheld and jolting segues. It left me both muddled and starstruck - it's wonderful.
If a book could be a whirling dervish of saucy banter, painful admissions, friendships grown and a truckload of moxie this would be it.
Format: Paperback, 396 pages
Publisher: PanMacmillan Australia