Bookphile's Reviews > Unraveling

Unraveling by Elizabeth Norris
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Apr 25, 12

bookshelves: 2012, young-adult-sci-fi, arc, amazon-vine
Read from March 27 to April 04, 2012

There were many things I really liked about this book, though I did feel like it had a tendency to drag a bit at times. It probably could have hit 5 stars had a little of the fat been trimmed. Still, it's a great, exciting read. More complete review to follow.

Complete review:

Unraveling is just the sort of book to reach for when you have a craving for some page-turning suspense. It moves at a very fast pace with snappy writing, short and easily digested chapters, interesting characters, and a premise that I found pretty fascinating. This is a sci-fi novel, but not the sort that involves aliens and spaceships; seeing as how fantasy has its own urban fantasy sub-genre, I'd like to submit that we need a new sci-fi sub-genre known as urban sci-fi. There's some physics here, but nothing textbook-boring--just enough to show that the premise is grounded in some actual scientific theory. If you're a fan of mind-bending shows like Fringe or movies like Inception, you'll probably enjoy this novel. Some spoilers will follow.

It would be difficult for a novel not to have an immediate, urgent sort of feel when this one is structured the way it is, what with the countdown at the top of each chapter counting down how much time is left until the world's ultimate demise. Still, there are some slower moments where Janelle has time to reflect on life and to take a moment to appreciate the things she has. For the most part, these episodes don't slow down the novel too much and they add extra facets to the novel's characterization, but there were times when I felt like Janelle was wasting just a bit too much time, considering how little she had. Even so, this is a minor quibble. Norris does pacing very well and there's plenty of action in this book, along with enough confusion to keep you wondering up until the big reveal.

My one real gripe about the novel was that I felt it sometimes tended to do info dumps. Just as Janelle is about to learn some important information, the chapter will end with something along these lines: "Ben sighed as he prepared to tell me about the secrets of the universe." Okay, he doesn't tell her about the secrets of the universe, but he does tell her about some important aspects of the plot. What I found strange, though, was that Norris would switch into a narrator voice to give the reader the information rather than allowing Ben to dole it out via dialog. Since the novel deals with some pretty high concept stuff, I can understand the depth of the information that was presented. However, I felt it would have been better done through conversation rather than Janelle just repeating back the things Ben (or other characters) told her. This technique gave it too much of a book report sort of feel at times and it also had the effect of taking me out of the action a little too much.

As for Janelle herself, she was a character that I very much enjoyed. She's a strong, feisty, smart young woman who is also flawed. She is petty sometimes and given to pigeonholing people before she really gets to know them. This is not a criticism; a good character should have flaws or they just become a boring Mary Sue and, really, who wants to read about those characters? Janelle's voice felt very authentic to me, and I really bought her as a person separate from the plot of the novel. Norris does a fantastic job of really allowing the reader to get to know Janelle, to understand what this girl is all about.

Because the book is told from a first person perspective, there is more distance between the reader and the secondary characters. We don't see their thoughts the way we see Janelle's, so we don't become as intimately familiar with them. However, they are still very well done, particularly Alex. I did like Ben, but I probably like Alex even better and I confess I found myself wondering at times why Janelle wasn't more into him than Ben. Norris did the chemistry between Ben and Janelle well, but there was a lot more substance to Janelle's relationship with Alex. I don't think Norris was necessarily hinting that there was any sort of romantic potential between Alex and Janelle, so my thinking Alex might be a better catch was probably a purely personal reaction. It does speak, though, to how well Norris developed the relationship between the two. Alex is that sort of friend everyone should have, the one Janelle can rely on in any situation, and I really enjoyed that dynamic.

The romance side of things was well done too, but it wasn't really a big influence on my overall feelings about the book. What I did like, though, is how Norris showed that sometimes, no matter how much two people may love one another, they may be forced to make choices that could come between them. I like happy endings, but I get a little tired of everything being saccharine sweet, and I am also frankly completely over books in which one character or another gives everything up to be with the other. I'm not saying that great romantic love like this doesn't exist, but when you're sixteen or seventeen, it's probably best to focus on what you want out of life than it is to focus on what you want from your significant other. I liked that though Ben and Janelle cared for one another, they had clear lines that they were unwilling to cross in order to be together. This contributes greatly to the feeling of Janelle being a whole and complete character because she doesn't exist solely for her relationship with Ben.

Lastly, I really loved the concept that the novel explored. It's one that I find endlessly fascinating, and it allows for a lot of leeway in how the book is developed. I think it lends itself so well to media because it entices us with questions of "what if" that we, as human beings, tend to like to ponder. What if one historical event had gone another way? What if I had made a different choice at a certain point in my life? Though this is a self-contained novel, I think there is some room for future spin-offs because there's just a whole lot Norris could do with the premise, and it would be possible to do it in such a way that it wouldn't feel like she was just milking it for all it's worth.

I'm hoping that books like this one and the equally fast-paced and science-based Partials are an indication of a coming trend in YA fiction. I'm a big fan of dystopian, but I think a novel like Unraveling is really onto something. It is possible to write action-oriented stories that can also be character driven and intelligent. I will definitely be eager to see what Norris has to offer next.
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Reading Progress

03/28/2012 "I'm really liking this book so far. It's fast-paced and interesting, and the characters are nicely done."
03/31/2012 "I need to just sit down with this book and devote some serious time to it. When I do squeeze in a few pages, I eat them up. I really hope this momentum keeps up."
04/02/2012 "I was just standing at the stove reading this while stirring the stew. I'm maybe half way through and it's just that good."

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