TEEN LIBRARIAN'S REVIEW:
Without a lot of fuss, let me just get straight to the point and say I loved this book! Do I need to write any more? 🙂
Ok, seriously, "The Year of Secret Assignments" is a delightful, quirky novel about three best friends who live in Australia. Lydia, the budding author, is smart, sarcastic, and the de facto leader of the group; her "secret assignments" are clever methods to repair small wounds in the girls' friendship. Emily is stubborn but kind, super funny, and secretly afraid that she'll never be a successful attorney like her parents. Finally, Cassie is a sweet, somewhat shy teen still struggling with the death of her father a year before.
It's the start of Year 10 (think sophomore year for us Americans). The students in Mr. Botherit's English class at the private all-girls Ashbury High are starting a yearlong program of exchanging letters with kids at the rougher public school, Brookfield. Lydia ends up trading letters with the soccer loving, marginally delinquent Seb. Seb's initial letters to Lydia are requests to spring him from exams. Since Lydia is all about secret assignments, she rather likes the challenges. From there, she plans more spy-like missions for her and Seb, a few of which allow the two to meet for only brief moments. As Seb longs for closer contact with Lydia, she's just too afraid to make their relationship real.
As for Em, what begins as open hostility with the tough Charlie Taylor slowly transforms into a genuine friendship. Em gives Charlie advice about stealing away his dream girl, but over time she finds herself drawn to this funny, surprisingly gentle boy. Meanwhile, Cassie is threatened by her "penfriend," who then takes advantage of her trust in a vicious way. Much of the second half of the novel — in between the revelation of secrets, broken relationships, and reconciliations — involves Lydia's plot to exact revenge on the evil "Matthew Dunlop," who, it turns out, may not even exist.
This is a great story of friendship and first love, full of believable characters and loads of dry, smart humor. The best part of the book? It's told entirely through letters, diary entries, school announcements, and even transcripts of a hearing. It's amazing that a story based solely on documents can be so engaging and complex. Even better, this method gives us so many different perspectives on the happenings in the story, such that we can actually feel Seb's longing for Lydia and Cassie's deep pain and fear. While some of the Australian slang may confuse you at first, I cannot imagine there are many female readers out there who won't enjoy "The Year of Secret Assignments." It's hilarious, clever, and heartwarming, and I definitely recommend it for readers in about 8th grade and up. Enjoy!