Anna's Reviews > Unspoken

Unspoken by Sarah Rees Brennan
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Oct 06, 12

bookshelves: kindle, ya-literature, women, read-2012
Read from September 22 to 30, 2012

During the summer of 2008, just after starting my first "real" job out of college, I finally followed up a recommendation one of my favorite authors, Sarah Dessen, had made repeatedly in her prolific LiveJournal entries: watch Veronica Mars.

I did this not knowing what I'd be getting: not knowing that Kristen Bell as Veronica Mars is perhaps the best, most fully realized female character ever to exist on television; not knowing that the first season in particular would raise my expectations of plotting and structure to previously unimagined levels; and not knowing that NotMatchbox20!Rob Thomas and Veronica Mars would give me my first mature framework for thinking about myself as a woman.

Since that summer, I've walked around with a Veronica Mars-sized hole in my heart. Sure, by the alternating grace of TheWB.com and the power vested in Netflix, I can rewatch episodes whenever I want. Yes, I can recommend the entire series to everyone I know, then live vicariously through their first viewings. And OK, maybe I approach life's trials with What would Veronica Mars do? as my guiding mantra. But none of these are what that hole in my heart truly craves, what it almost desperately needs: more Veronica Mars.

Enter Sarah Rees Brennan's Unspoken. I'll let you down quickly: it's not more Veronica Mars, not really. But it is about as close as anyone has ever gotten, plus it stands on its own as a unique and wonderful young adult novel, and for these reasons, it's one of my favorite books of at least the past year.

The story opens with the introduction of Kami Glass, intrepid girl reporter, who is bent on uncovering the secrets of her small town, Sorry-in-the-Vale, no matter how much her beautiful but lazy best friend, Angela Montgomery, may want to nap instead. To this end, Kami has convinced her high school to let her start a school newspaper, and she's begun investigating Sorry-in-the-Vale's founding family, the mysterious and long-absent Lynburns—all while maintaining a silent, running conversation with Jared, the imaginary friend she's had for as long as she can remember.

But then her imaginary Jared turns out to be the very real Jared Lynburn, and their connection just the beginning of the secrets buried in Sorry-in-the-Vale.

There are so many reasons to love this book, and none more exciting than the fact that Kami is a wonderful female lead: assertive and capable, thoughtful and determined, she's unwilling to bow to those who would have her be otherwise.
"Here's the thing," said Kami. "Holly came to me with this story because nobody else would have listened to it. And nobody would have listened to me if I'd called the police and said, 'Oh, the kids are making too much noise in the woods.' They're listening to me now because I went out and found something. I found something. And it was horrible, and the only way I know to deal with something horrible is to do something about it. This is my story. And I'm not going to give it up. I'm going to see how it ends. You don't get a say."
She's also notable for being a woman of color and thus a departure from the pantheon of white characters who dominate popular young adult fiction. In fact, one of my favorite character introductions is that of Kami's half-Japanese father, Jon Glass, who is on the receiving end of "a startled look becaue of the perfect English and the Gloucester accent." I've read a lot of young adult fiction, and I can't think of a better example of the casual othering that's perpetuated by otherwise welcoming people and communities.

Another reason to love this book is that though there is romance, it's treated in a way that directly confronts the "instalove" trope that so infuriates many fans of young adult fiction: Kami and Jared have shared every aspect of their lives and their selves with each other for as long as they can remember, and the resulting lack of boundaries when they meet is clearly depicted as problematic.
[S]aying he was part of her or that they were more than friends sounded like love, but it sounded like loss as well. All the words she knew to describe what he was to her were from love stories and love songs, but those were not words anyone truly meant.

They were like Jared, in a way. If they were real, they would be terrifying.

Kami did not know what Jared wanted. Kami didn't know what she wanted either, except that she was scared all the limits she'd set would be burned away, all control lost, and she would be lost too.
Brennan could have easily fallen into the trap of downplaying the negative side effects of having one's existence so enmeshed with another's, but instead she recognizes that a connection like this can be as frightening and harmful as it can be exhilarating and good.

And ultimately, it's easy to love this book because like Veronica Mars, it's a compelling, well-paced mystery with good characters, snappy dialogue, and real emotion at its heart. Yes, there's a cliffhanger ending, because this is just book one of three, and yes, Brennan's a bit of a life ruiner, but in my opinion, she earns the right to every choice she makes by telling an undisputedly good story.
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Reading Progress

09/22/2012
16.0% "The #VeronicaMars parallels have not been exaggerated."
09/28/2012
35.0% "I can't see where it's headed (yet), but that just makes me like this more."
09/29/2012
58.0% "Holy shit. I did not see that coming. #readthisbook"
09/30/2012
100.0% "Well. Fuck. #readthisbook"
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