Wednesday, September 19, 2012
Review: Unspoken by Sarah Rees Brennan
Tags: YA, paranormal, mystery
Kami Glass’ family has always lived in the small village of Sorry-in-the-Vale, which used to be rule by the mysterious and intimidating Lynburns from a grand mansion overlooking the town until the Lynburns all left a few decades ago. But now the Lynburns are back, stirring up old feelings, but no one will tell Kami anything about them and why she should stay away from them.
Kami’s journalist instinct cannot let the mystery rest. Finding what little information there is available about the Lynburns is hard enough, but things get extremely complicated when the boy whose voice Kami has been hearing in her head ever since she can remember appears in real life…as a Lynburn.
A slow plot. A long book that could’ve been cut down by 150 pages. An important reveal that should’ve happened 100 pages earlier. A love triangle (sort of). An average but not particularly memorable protagonist. These are the qualities that seem to be characteristic of YA bestsellers these days—and, since, UNSPOKEN had all of these, I’m sure it has a shot at getting on the bestseller list. Unfortunately, because of all these qualities, this book didn’t end up being my thing.
Kami fancies herself a “sassy female detective,” but Veronica Mars she is not. This is in part, I think, due to Brennan’s rather strange choice of telling the story in third person, instead of from Kami’s point of view. I LOVED Kami’s voice in the first-person opening, and was initially shocked, then eventually disappointed, when the rest of this long long overly long book proceeded in third-person. Presumably this was because sometimes, randomly, the POV switched over to Jared’s—but the main characters were so forgettably bland anyway that having a few pages from their POV didn’t impress them upon me more. So anyway, my point here is that any potential for the Veronica Mars-esque sassiness that Kami claims to possess was unfortunately smothered by the third-person narration.
Speaking of “long long overly long”… At less than 400 pages, UNSPOKEN is shorter than a lot of books I’ve read and loved, but even that length was unnecessary for the events—or lack thereof—that transpired. Maybe the idea suffered from YA trilogy-itis? I read this on my Kindle, and the Important Big Reveal, the revelation that would justify the characters’ (and readers’) confusion and curiosity up till then, didn’t occur until more than two-thirds of the way through the book. Come on. That’s just basically assuming that readers will be pulled along by sheer curiosity instead of anything actually substantial—which I suppose some readers might be, but I’m thoroughly not put over the moon by a bunch of villagers being all “Hush, we don’t talk about the Lynburns” while initially nothing scarier than the common fear of a haunted wood happens.
The first two-thirds of UNSPOKEN (you know, the part that should’ve been condensed to half its length) consist of Kami running around—sometimes by herself, sometimes with Jared—picking up clues but then not acting on them because she’s so busy agonizing over her confused feelings about Jared vs. Ash. True, she’s no Bella Swan over boys, but still. Kami. Girl. Don’t be the person who loses all common sense in the midst of a crisis because you can’t decide how a certain boy feels about you.
With the exception of a few good quips, Kami and Jared don’t hold a candle to the supposed supporting characters (and let’s not even talk about Ash). I loved the casual yet loving banter among Kami’s family members, and Kami’s friends Angela and Holly stole the scene every time they appeared. (Why couldn’t Angela have been the protagonist instead? I could totally get behind a people-hating protagonist.) Alas, the vibrancy and attractiveness of the supporting characters meant that the main characters’ “conflicts” felt terribly clichéd in comparison. I found myself not caring much about how Kami and Jared struggled to deal with their feelings for each other. YAWN, YA TROPE ALERT. For an author in a position of literary influence (I thought that Sarah Rees Brennan’s Demon’s Lexion trilogy was great, and she belongs to a literary circle of some of the most influential YA authors in the past decade), I was greatly disappointed by all the clichés and tropes that this story ended up using.
In this review I once again dredge up what I find frustrating and lacking in the so-called “YA bestsellers” of these days. Which means that the majority of YA readers will love this, and I will be the curmudgeonly old lady in the ratty overstaffed armchair in the corner of a drafty room furthest away from the fireplace, knitting and talking to my friends the rats and cats.
Kami Garcia & Margaret Stohl
Cover discussion: It's a pity about this book, because I love that cover. It's so striking. It would've looked great on my bookshelf, but alas.
Random House / Sept. 11, 2012 / Hardcover / 384pp. / $18.99
e-galley received for review from publisher and NetGalley.