Reviewed by Cana Rensberger for TeensReadToo.com
THE YEAR OF SECRET ASSIGNMENTS by Jaclyn Moriarty has an interesting format. It is written entirely without dialogue. "What?" you say. It's true. The entire novel uses letters, diaries, journals, emails, and transcripts to tell the story. It's quite intriguing.
Three best friends, Cass, Emily, and Lydia, embark on an adventure that begins as a pen pal assignment in their English class. They each end up with male pen pals from their rival, Brookfield High. It quickly becomes evident which of the girls is writing, as the voices of the girls are quite distinct. I had a little more difficulty identifying two of the boys and remembering which girl they were writing to. The third boy's voice was quite distinctive.
Through a series of secret assignments the year 10 pen pals get to know one another, challenging each other to attempt various tasks. Just as they become comfortable with one another, feelings get hurt and the letters come to a halt. One pair of letters becomes downright frightening. When a true identity is uncovered, letters resume with a flurry of intensity, until vandalism begins at both schools and all students are ordered to stop writing. When the three girls are summoned to the office, they must rely on their pen pals to uncover the truth.
I would recommend this book to my students. The voices are fun and authentic. Although the pacing of the book is somewhat slow at the beginning, probably due to trying to keep the characters straight, it picks up significantly as they forge relationships with their pen pals. The ending is both surprising and satisfying.