Cassie, Emily and Lydia are three best friends who go to posh Ashbury in Australia, but their teacher wants to expand their horizons and makes the entire class write letters to the close by but “rough” Brookfield High. Although the girls have low expectations that this experiment can work, Emily and Lydia find that their male pen pals are actually alright people… even if they go to Brookfield. Cassie, however, has already been having a hard time in her personal life, and her pen pal just seems to be making things worse.
I’m just going to put it out there that I love Jaclyn Moriarty. She writes epistolary novels, with this novel consisting of letters, diary entries and notes left around the house. It really allows the reader to get inside the heads of the three friends, and also understand the Brookfield boys. Each character has a unique writing style and it helps to create really distinct personalities. I also love how the three girls relate to each other. Sure there are boys and the possibility of romance, but that is not in any way their main focus. They really care about each other, and they try to help each other out any way they can. The secret assignments from the title are a way for Emily and Lydia to distract Cassie from her grief and hopefully cheer her up. The girls are also really funny, especially Lydia who writes the most absurd, hilarious things to her pen pal in the hopes of scaring him off. These girls aren’t perfect by any standard, but that’s the reason why you’d want to be friends with them.
If you’ve read Feeling Sorry for Cecilia, then Elizabeth makes a quick appearance and you’ll meet Bindy from The Murder of Bindy MacKenzie. My favourite Moriarty is Feeling Sorry for Cecilia, which is about building a new friendship when an old one falls through. I loved that novel because some of the letters from groups like the Association of Teenagers, and the Cold Hard Truth Society, showed how Elizabeth thinks in a funny but honest way. The Year of Secret Assignments is always written by a particular character, which still works but can be less engaging. We know that some thing is going on with Cassie, but since the friends know what's happened, we rarely get any information about it. However, I still love this novel for its humour and its portrayal of friendship.