I picked up Amelia O’Donohue is So Not a Virgin because it looked like just the sort of light and fluffy read I love to bury myself in when I don’t want to have to think too much about the book I’m reading. As it turns out, it fulfilled very few of my expectations, but proved an interesting and enjoyable read all the same.

The title and cover of Amelia O’Donohue is So Not a Virgin hint at a novel about friendships and enemies and teen gossip, but there is a greater depth to Helen Fitzgerald’s work once the reader moves past the introductory section of the text. Indeed, it’s more an exploration of the psyche of her protagonist, Rachel, than it is an account of her interactions with the people around her.

In some ways, Amelia O’Donohue is So Not a Virgin is a complicated read. Fitzgerald is a master of show-not-tell and we learn very little from Rachel about her thoughts and motivations that isn’t implied through her actions. As she withdraws from the people around her, she withdraws a little from the reader as well. Fitzgerald’s clipped, understated style captures the changes in Rachel perfectly, while maintaining interest in the novel’s underlying plot.

As a protagonist, Rachel is believable and sympathetic, if not always easy to identify with. Her closed nature does not allow the reader to get too close. Likewise, her supporting characters are also seen through the walls Rachel places around herself. Sammy, however, shines through as a likeable and entertaining boy, while the Amelia of the book’s title is wonderfully multi-faceted from the beginning, even if she features very little for the first half of the book.

It’s impossible to discuss the second half of the book in depth without slipping into spoilers, but it’s artfully structured and left me wanting to flip straight back to the beginning of the book in order to re-read it whilst searching for clues to the final reveal. While I managed to resist the temptation, I did flick through the first half of the book again and confirmed that the sign-posting is all there, albeit so well-incorporated that it doesn’t leap out at the reader at all.

Amelia O’Donohue is So Not a Virgin was a surprisingly clever and well-crafted young adult novel that belies its fluffy title. It wasn’t what I was expecting; it was better.