- Author: Jaclyn Moriarty.
- Published elsewhere as: The Betrayal of Bindy Mackenzie (AU), Becoming Bindy MacKenzie (UK).
- How I got it: I bought this brand-new paperback for only MYR 3. *bargain!* An international school library was trying to get rid of its surplus stock, hence the discount.
- MY RATING: 3/5 stars.
- INCLUDES SPOILERS!!
This is the most bizarre book I have ever read.
The plot alone makes me wonder if there were two different authors working on it. It almost feels like there are two separate stories with a smattering of foreshadowing barely tying them… together.
In this epistolary novel, Bindy Mackenzie is the brilliant, overachieving perfectionist of Year 11. In fact, The blurb declares her ‘the most perfect girl at Ashbury High’ and goes on with the conjecture ‘No wonder somebody wants to kill her’.
Wow. Are we talking about the same girl? Because the Bindy in the book is laughably far from ‘perfect’. Unless, of course, the author of the blurb has an extremely narrow interpretation of the word ‘perfect’.
Academically-speaking, Bindy Mackenzie is ‘perfect’.
Socially? Bindy Mackenzie is a wannabe loser.
Her Emotional Quotient is inversely proportionate to her Intelligence Quotient. (*ElizaDoolittleimpersonation* What are you sniggering at? I bet I got that right!)
However, the blurb seemed to suggest that she was being murdered…academically. (It’s impossible to murder her social life since it’s pretty much nonexistent.) Bindy starts skipping classes, misses assignments…and almost fails Year 11. *gasp* What is happening?? Her friends try to solve the mystery! But… they hate her!! Will they help her before it is…too… late?!
I hate dishonest blurbs.
There I was, all set for some geeky, surreal plot about grasping, manipulative students tearing down the school’s number one student all for the sake of academic accolades. It would be about the blood (!), sweat (!!), and tears (!!!) involved in replacing Bindy MacKenzie ($#%!). Or maybe it would be about Bindy overworking herself and being ‘murdered’ by the academic workload itself!! Yeah…I was feelin’ snarky.
But it turned out to be a cross between a Judy Blume book (Here’s to You, Rachel Robinson and Otherwise Known As Shelia The Great) and some cryptic conspiracy novel.
Judy Blume = realistic fiction. Conspiracy = fantastic fiction (?) Talk about mood whiplash.
But I didn’t hate it. Much.
Okay, the blurb wasn’t really being dishonest. It sure was suggestive though.
Still. Let me make this as monosyllabic as possible: Bindy. Is. Annoying. The only endearing quality she has is that she tries. She really tries. She tries so hard in everything she does it’s almost pathetic. That’s the only good thing I can say about her. On the other hand, I could go on and on about her total lack of self-awareness, her inferiority superiority complex, her judgmental attitude, her manipulative tendencies (though I like her idea of painting nails in different COLORS to show people how APPROACHABLE you are!!)… Bottom-line: Bindy is basically the most neurotic, passive-aggressive know-it-all you could ever hope to meet. The reader gets to experience it first hand, full-blast, as 80% of the book is written from Bindy’s perspective, in the form of her diary/memos.
I mentioned that the book feels like two separate stories. (SPOILERS ALERT!!)
This is Story I:
All Bindy’s faults blow up in the worst possible way when she is shoved, silently screaming, into a mandatory course called Friendship And Development (FAD). (I must say, that acronym appeals to me in a rather unspeakable way.) It is aimed at helping teenagers with their ‘issues’ via bonding with other teenagers. Bindy is thus unceremoniously plonked in a scarily intimate setting with seven of her other class mates. The eight of them are led by a young, new, eccentric teacher who goes by the name of Try Montaine.
Obviously, Bindy thinks FAD is a huge waste of time as she is ‘perfect’ and has no ‘issues’. In fact, she doesn’t even consider herself a teenager (and says so to Try).
In an effort to get to know them, Try plays the ‘Name Game’: each student has a sheet of paper with their name on it which the others get to scribble on – basically comment on what they think of the person.
Under the delusion that she’s extremely popular, Bindy is horrified when she gets her paper back and sees comments portraying her in a less-than-perfect light. She basically overreacts to the (mostly) innocuous comments. How dare they see her as less than perfect! What horrible and ungrateful people they are! Furious, she swears revenge on the ‘Venomous Seven’. Bindy then tries to ‘punish’ them by ‘showing them what they are’ through various passive-aggressive tactics…All in all, I found this part very painful to read. Sloughing through the seething mass of her vitriolic memos was both tedious and nausea-inducing.
While this little drama plays out, Bindy is shown to be working hard in the background. She studies obsessively and holds two jobs (Kmart employee of the month!). Despite all her hard work, however, her grades begin to slip. Terrified, she works herself harder than ever…. A nervous breakdown seems eminent, and, soon enough, the strain starts to show. She has stomach pains, headaches, and even begins to hallucinate. (Schadenfreude, anyone?)
To top it off, Bindy’s family has…’issues’. She doesn’t live with them, and, for some reason, lives with relatives.
Cranky and emotionally exhausted, Bindy takes it out even more on her FADmates. Unsurprisingly, when Try plays the Name Game a second time, the comments of her FADmates are truly devastating.
Then Bindy wakes up. For the first time, she sees the extent of the hurt she has inflicted on her FADmates. Horrified and ashamed of herself, she avoids FAD and begins to skip classes. Try, in an attempt to get her to come back to FAD, gives Bindy an assignment: write a story of your life – the Life of Bindy Mackenzie. She encourages Bindy to open up.
Bindy completes the assignment in its entirety. Bindy Mackenzie: A Life, allows the reader to see the factors that shaped Bindy into the person she is. Bindy also tries to connect and make up with her FADmates. However, her new social-awareness costs her academically…
It is at this point where Moriarty truly shines. Bindy’s character development is a convincing one. Moriarty not only peels back the layers on what makes Bindy tick, but also shows Bindy’s struggles within herself as she strives to reach outside her [reverie] to the rest of the world. (Plus, major kudos to her for turning Bindy into a Jerkass Woobie.) The high point of Story I is at a FAD retreat, where Bindy, trying so hard to reach her distant FADmates, breaks down in tears. She is finally honest with them and with herself. I think I may have cried too, out of sympathy. Or maybe it was out of sheer relief that the fever of neurotic anxiety had finally (!) broken. Her FADmates turn out to be pretty sympathetic (especially after they read the story of her life which they find in Try’s house). All is forgiven, and Story I ends on a happy, hopeful note.
Bindy’s FADmates think the reason she feels unwell all the time is because someone is poisoning her (!). One of them has been writing a paper about the effects of poison and thus suggests this bizarre idea. Try plays the Voice of Reason: of course no one is poisoning Bindy. Who on earth would do that?? You teenagers are always such drama queens, etc. Bindy’s just sick because she’s anxious all the time!
Try is pretty convincing. The reader is left nodding his/her head smugly, thinking: Haha…stupid teenagers and their obsessions with conspiracies. They’re so wrong.
Oh, wait, they may be right.
(…and Bindy IS being murdered in the most literal sense of the word…)
At this point, everything falls apart as an unseen hand pulls the strings loose from Moriarty’s beautiful yarn.
The reader is then left wondering whether the Bindy he/she has come to love was ever real. Having lapsed into a comatose state after the crazy highs and lows of Story I, the reader has no choice but to dully absorb an epic subversion of a coming of age story. As the plot turns into a roller-coaster and plunges down a rabbit-hole of criminal conspiracies, the reader becomes dimly aware that she has been taken for a ride and wonders when was this allowed to happen…
There is only one thing to be said about Story II and that is: this.
There’s so much I love and hate about The Murder of Bindy Mackenzie (and, yes, I think the US version got the title right). But I throw my hands up in the air and say Hallelujah! to TV Tropes, without which I would be writing the longest blog-post in my history of blog-posting (my sketchbook post is the longest so far because a picture = 1000 words).
Anyways, for what it’s worth, The Murder of Bindy Mackenzie is the most subversive, weirdly enlightening work of crazy that I’ve ever experienced.
A/N: To all the readers who braved the entire journey through this incredibly long, draggy blog-post: Congrats! As a prize for winning this non-competition, you get a magical pony!
(However, since there are no such things as magical ponies, you basically get nothing.)
Leave a comment and spread the crazy. ^_^