Author: Elizabeth Norris
Publication Date: 4/24/12
Publisher: Balzer + Bray
Blurb (GR): Two days before the start of her junior year, seventeen-year-old Janelle Tenner is hit by a pickup truck and killed—as in blinding light, scenes of her life flashing before her, and then nothing. Except the next thing she knows, she's opening her eyes to find Ben Michaels, a loner from her high school whom Janelle has never talked to, leaning over her. And even though it isn't possible, she knows—with every fiber of her being—that Ben has somehow brought her back to life.
But her revival, and Ben's possible role in it, is only the first of the puzzles that Janelle must solve. While snooping in her FBI agent father's files for clues about her accident, she uncovers a clock that seems to be counting down to something—but to what? And when someone close to Janelle is killed, she can no longer deny what's right in front of her: Everything that's happened—the accident, the murder, the countdown clock, Ben's sudden appearance in her life—points to the end of life as she knows it. And as the clock ticks down, she realizes that if she wants to put a stop to the end of the world, she's going to need to uncover Ben's secrets—and keep from falling in love with him in the process.
From debut author Elizabeth Norris comes this shattering novel of one girl's fight to save herself, her world, and the boy she never saw coming.
When I look back at Unraveling, the first word that comes to mind is "calculated."
I read a fair number of commercial genre fiction and I am quite used to certain themes, plots and character archetypes being recycled over and over and over and over. It does not bother me, in general. But Unraveling was the first book that made me think, while reading it, that it had been written off of a checklist of what is currently "in" and sells well in YA market. I do not even have energy (nor a desire) to harp on how much of this novel is tediously familiar. Just a few notes:
- Opening: the hero saves the heroine from dying.
- Romance: 50% instalove (see #1)/ 50% I-have-loved-you-forever. Escalates to I-can't-leave-without-you in a matter of 2-3 weeks.
- The heroine is "strong" - smart, good student, knows how stand up for herself, family caretaker, family problems, dark traumatic incident in her past of sexual nature.
- The hero is "good" - sensitive, caring, saves the heroine on multiple occasions, with floppy hair he is constantly running his hands through, crooked smile, with dark secret, fixes motorcycles, hides his smarts under a stoner persona.
- School: a class that is conveniently designed for the hero and the heroine to banter on a very intimate level, encouraged by the teacher.
- Other stock characters: stoners, slutty mean girls, stupid jocks, the heroine's best male friend (possibly gay? unclear).
- Sleeping chastely in the same bed? Yes.
Is it really that hard for writers to break away from the same old, same old? Or is this what publishers are deliberately and actively seeking out? Something that fits the mold?
There are a few saving graces, however, that barely keep Unraveling from the 1-star abyss, in my case, and, apparently, elevate this book to the level of a favorite, for other readers.
First, it appears the author of the novel went out of her way to make sure to put all positive qualities into her characters and situations. There is no promoting of unhealthy relationships, abusive behavior, doormatedness and so on. The main characters even give small lectures along the way on the matters of dating, dangers of motorcycle riding, drunk driving, honorable way of hacking into the school records, etc.
Second, while I was not at any point enamored with the characters, I still thought the book was a very brisk read. The writing has a sense of urgency to it. The chapters are very short and represent a countdown to a very important, possibly life-threatening event. So you just tear through these pages, like there is no tomorrow.
Third, this novel starts out as a paranormal (after all, the hero magically brings the heroine back from death), but eventually turns into a science fiction story (SF is on the rise, people!, that is why it is in this book, I am betting). Several very positive reviews of Unraveling I have read call this SF bend unique, and readers seem to like it a lot.
But I beg to differ here. Maybe because I do read a lot of SF and I have very recently read another (much better) YA SF with the same ideas (I will not name it so that I do not spoil the surprise), but I cannot seriously call Unraveling a good SF novel. There is hardly any science in Unraveling, the SF "hook" goes generally undeveloped. As for how much science there is actually in this book, I would say close to zero. You can expect nothing more, if the characters in this novel say: "I've spent hours going over it in my head. I was wrong when I told A. no one else knows the science. Both B. and C. know the science..." (identities concealed to avoid spoilers). So that is the extent of scientific knowledge in Unraveling. There are no specifics, just that elusive "science" that characters "know" and "do."
Readers less jaded and less demanding are likely to enjoy Unraveling more. The book's pace is snappy and the story itself packs all the "right" elements. But there is just no originality in it, no life in its characters, no true inspiration behind it. An aggregate of bluntly "popular" pieces carefully put together.