Christine's Reviews > The Year of Secret Assignments

The Year of Secret Assignments by Jaclyn Moriarty
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's review
Jul 19, 2010

it was amazing
bookshelves: ya, my-cup-of-tea, lib-tech-school, the-land-down-under
Read in June, 2010

** spoiler alert ** Moriarty, Jaclyn. The Year of Secret Assignments. New York: Arthur A. Levine Books (An Imprint of Scholastic Inc.), 2004.
(Originally published in Australia as "Finding Cassie Crazy")
Genre: Contemporary, mystery
Age Appeal: 13 and up

Subjects: High school (private vs public), letter writing, dating, grief, death, friendship, mystery, humour

The Year of Secret Assignments (or Finding Cassie Crazy) is made up entirely of diary entries, notes, letters, bulletins, Special Covert Operations and entries in a Notebook™. The three main characters are students at Ashbury, an exclusive private high school in Sydney: best friends Lydia (clever, wry, creator of Secret Assignments), Emily (confident, funny) and Cassie (quirky, shy). The girls take part in an English class assignment, where they begin exchanging letters with students at the local comprehensive high school, Brookfield. Lydia ends up with Sebastian (soccer fan, artist), Emily writes to Charlie (good hearted car thief) but Cassie seems to have been paired with a sociopath who calls himself Matthew. For Lydia with Seb and Emily with Charlie the letter project creates friendship and even sparks some romance, but for Cassie it creates heartbreak. Cassie lost her father to cancer the year before and she is pushing herself to "get over" grieving, as she worries that her classmates consider a year a very long time to still be feeling sad. Her dubiously effective therapist encourages her to open up to a new friend, and Cassie decides to do so with Matthew, even though he responds (at first) with angry threats and seems an unlikely choice. Slowly he seems to change his ways and open up to Cassie, but this turns out to be insincere. When everything comes out to Lydia and Emily, the hunt is on to track down Matthew and force him to own up to his cruel behaviour. Once the girls enlist the help of the two friendly Brookfield pen pals, however, they discover that there are no Matthews in the other English class and it is not at all certain with whom Cassie has been corresponding.

Though The Year of Secret Assignments alternates between six main voices (and a few supporting ones as well) it is easy to keep track and identify each time the narration changes. While Cassie's struggles with grief over the loss of her dad, and the nature of her strange correspondent are central to the story, each character is distinct and well developed through their letters or diary entries. The reader is compelled to keep turning pages, not only to find out if the crushes that Lydia and Emily have on their pen pals ever grow beyond letter writing, but also to get to the bottom of the Matthew mystery. One of the most important messages of this story is that true friends will be there, supporting and sticking up for you, through thick and thin.

Adults play a small but important part in the action, with letters from parents and notices from teachers included to help round out the story. The girls all have at least one parent working in law (as Moriarty did herself, before becoming a writer) and this is often used for comedic effect (ex .There is, in fact, a good deal of humour to balance the more serious topics covered. The book ends on a hopeful note, and though it comes close to being a bit too tidy, the witty way that the final acts unfold saves it from being overly sentimental. There is some light swearing, but very little in the way of sexual content, and so this story would appeal to readers from thirteen up. As it is written in the voices of teens, and is an enticing story, this book would appeal both to struggling and more advanced readers. With strong male and female characters, it could appeal to both male and female readers, although the focus on developing relationships and in particular the strong bond between the three girls makes it more appealing to young women.

Reviews all seem to agree that this novel of teen intrigue, romance, espionage and friendship is well worth the read! It is highly recommended, and would be a great tie-in book for creative English teachers who could have the reading of this novel coincide with a letter-writing project of their own.

This is the second of four novels that take place in the Ashbury-Brookfield universe, and though characters cross over between them, the books can be read in any order.


Kirkus, Jan. 2004
PW, Feb 2004

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