Book Review: The Year of the Gadfly

By Jennifer Miller

2009 to 2010 me would laugh heartily if they knew that 2012 to 2013 me was going to say what I’m about to say: I love Twitter. Really, I do. It’s been a great way to “meet” people, gather and spread information and, relevant to this post, chat with authors.

Back in October, I wrote about attending the Twin Cities Festival of Books and my adventure trying to run into Jennifer Miller to get her to sign my book. While that was a failure, in November I tweeted:

The conversation continued a bit with a couple more tweets. Really, the point is that being able to connect with writers, actors, and other prominent people is one of my favorite aspects of Twitter. It bridges geographical divides and removes walls between people.


Miller’s book was a real treat to read. It was hard to put down. It was also really inspiring in the way that any well-written book is inspiring for someone who imagines him/herself one day finally writing a novel. She showed a mastery of language and storytelling that truly impressed me. Miller also created really strong characters. Even if we only hear from them very little, there’s the impression that we really do know about them. Their motivations, actions, thoughts, etc. were all very realistic.

Cultural Impact

I’m sure it’s possible for this book to have an impact on culture, particularly for those who are interested in anything surrounding prep school. It is full of the air of prep school pieces that came before it, whether they are movies or books. The Year of the Gadfly is a great addition to a genre with a storied past.


Jennifer Miller’s master of language makes her very quotable. My favorite quote, though, is a great example of her descriptive abilities.

The wind chill in Nye is like a pack of hornets zeroing in on your neck… (page 29)


I haven’t fully developed my new rating system yet, but I’ll just throw out a few categories for today.

Writing 4 out of 5 stars

Story 3 out of 5 stars

Character Development 4 out of 5 stars

Total 3.67 out of 5 stars

Have you read any great prep school novels lately? 

Follow me on Twitter here. For more book reviews, books I’ve read and books I want to read, find me on Goodreads.

Rain Taxi’s Twin Cities Book Festival

On Saturday morning Claire and I found ourselves in St. Paul at the Twin Cities Book Festival. Being the first book festival I’ve ever attended, I wasn’t sure what to expect. Suffice it to say, I was not disappointed.

The Progress building was packed with book lovers
the moment we walked in the door.

From our first step into the packed historic Progress building to our last steps into the rain mid afternoon, we were entertained and informed. The building was full of book lovers of all ages. The amount of people was my first surprise, but it was definitely nice seeing so many book lovers in one place.

After a quick walk through the Exhibit Hall, Claire and I attended the Author Publicity: Basics and Beyond panel moderated by Steph Opitz, Membership Director for the Council of Literary Magazines and Presses (CLMP) and book reviewer for Marie Claire magazine, featuring author Lorna Landvik, publisher Jerrold R. Jenkins, The Loft Literary Center’s Executive Director Jocelyn Hale and Minnesota Public Radio’s Stephanie Curtis. I wasn’t sure how well a toddler would go over in the session, but the acoustics worked in our favor. The large, open building was sectioned off by velvet curtains, but sound from the rest of the building floated in and covered Claire’s babbling. We were still able to hear the panelists perfectly, though.

The major discussion point in the panel was building a platform. In the age of social media, having a large following is the way to get a book published. Jenkins pointed out that a writer should build their platform three to four years before publishing a book to have a solid following of between 100 and 150 thousand people.  Agents and publishers have to take a risk on new authors even if their work is good. Having a large online following is appealing to them and mitigates the risk to a degree. This wasn’t a new concept to me, but it was a good point to keep in mind.

The panelists did make good suggestions for blogging and writing. Posts and articles that reflect the topic and feel of the novel will break up the self-promotional posts and draw in more followers. The writer should also have some “credits,” awards and published short stories and articles to list on queries.

During the Q&A, Jennifer Miller, author of The Year of the Gadfly, asked a good question (and was commended for excellent self promotion for mentioning her book, which I later bought) about whether an author with a big publishing house should handle pitches and self-promotion. The answer was that if the publicist or agent has a contact, he or she should pitch the author, but if not, the author should go ahead and do it him or herself. In response to this, Stephanie Curtis did recommend that when pitching a radio or tv program, the author should have a video or sound clip to prove that he or she can speak well. YouTube here I come!

After the session, Claire and I walked around the Exhibit Hall again as we made our way to the Children’s Pavilion, where Claire had a good time dancing to the Splatter Sisters, coloring a mask with the Minnetonka Center for the Arts, creating a book with the Minnesota Center for Book Arts and painting her own face with the help of the Minnesota Children’s Museum. The volunteers, writers and performers in the Children’s Pavilion were excellent, warm and very helpful.

All of my literature waiting to be read.

After all of that fun, we finally had a chance to really take in the Exhibit Hall. It was a great opportunity to learn about the many book organizations in the Twin Cities, publishers and literary magazines. I still have a stack of information to dig through. I hope to be able to participate in some of the groups to meet some more book lovers.

Now, back to Jennifer Miller. After asking a question during the Q&A session, I saw her book at the Magers and Quinn Booksellers table where she was scheduled to do a signing after 4:00, which was too late for me to stay with a toddler. The book looked intriguing and had a beautiful cover, so I bought it and decided to track her down to beg for a signature.

But that proved harder than I thought. Once, as I was chasing Claire passed the Literary Magazine sale table, I glanced up as I ran passed a woman and gave her the ‘sorry my child’s so wild smile’ and she gave me an ‘it’s OK’ smile back or I decided to interpret it that way. After passing her I realized who it was. But Claire was on to the music table, so I let her play with the instruments because she’s going to be a musical prodigy and I like to encourage her.

My second attempt came after the Susan Isaacs book reading, but unfortunately Jennifer walked out behind me as I was bent over talking to Claire. Are you seeing a pattern here? Claire foiled my attempts, but I still have what looks to be a great book to read.

We had a great, long day at the Twin Cities Book Festival. I have plans to go next year, possibly sans toddler, to really take in all of the information.