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In a book that is both urgent and timely, Melissa Ostrom explores the intricacies of shame and victim-blaming that accompany the aftermath of assault.

After surviving an assault at an off-campus party, nineteen-year-old Maggie is escaping her college town, and, because her reporting the crime has led to the expulsion of some popular athletes, many people--in particular, the outraged Tigers fans--are happy to see her go.

Maggie moves in with her Aunt Wren, a sculptor who lives in an isolated cabin bordered by nothing but woods and water. Maggie wants to forget, heal, and hide, but her aunt's place harbors secrets and situations that complicate the plan. Worse, the trauma Maggie hoped to leave behind has followed her, haunting her in ways she can't control, including flashbacks, insomnia and a sense of panic. Her troubles intensify when she begins to receive messages from another student who has survived a rape on her old campus. Just when Maggie musters the courage to answer her emails, the young woman goes silent.

304 pages, Hardcover

First published March 26, 2019

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About the author

Melissa Ostrom

4 books25 followers
Melissa Ostrom teaches English literature at Genesee Community College in Batavia, New York. Her short fiction has been published in literary magazines, and nominated for a Pushcart Prize. The Beloved Wild is her YA debut. She lives in Batavia, New York, with her family.

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5 stars
71 (42%)
4 stars
55 (33%)
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33 (19%)
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Displaying 1 - 30 of 56 reviews
Profile Image for emma.
1,822 reviews48.7k followers
August 2, 2021
I am obsessed with therapy.

I love to talk to and about my therapist like she is my friend. I love to give people advice on their problems that begins and ends with "go to therapy." I love to respond to people's dating horror stories by pointing out the scourge upon society that those who refuse to go to therapy are.

So this story, about a girl who is assaulted and then bullied and generally re-traumatized, and whose solution to that is to ignore it and hope it goes away until the end when she decides to jump right back in, did not really work for me.

In my experience, thinking you can get over trauma by not thinking about it ever is called "repression," or if not repression than "dissociation," and both things are pretty unhelpful from a long-term recovery standpoint.

But that's just me.

Bottom line: A well-meaning book that did not Do well for me!


more data needed.

review to come / 3 stars

currently-reading updates

so it turns out creating a "project" that is books i still haven't read in spite of owning them for years may just be a recipe for a reading slump.

but let's find out!


challenging myself to read as many review copies as possible this month because i'm addicted to projects!

ARC 1: spaceman of bohemia
ARC 2: in search of us
ARC 3: aerialists
ARC 4: the sound of drowning
ARC 5: unleaving
Profile Image for Elizabeth.
256 reviews292 followers
March 18, 2019
Unleaving is a thoughtful, contemplative young adult novel centered around 19 year old Maggie as she deals with the aftermath of an on campus rape that resulted in her having to leave college due to the trauma she's experiencing not just from the rape itself but from the cold and callous reactions of the community she lives in.

While staying with her Aunt Wren, Maggie begins to slowly cope with what's happened to her via her blossoming friendship with Linnie, a troubled young woman who is the mother of a five year old (wonderfully written as an actual child) and via corresponding and then meeting Jane, a young woman who was also a victim of rape at Maggie's college. Maggie also learns of her own family's history, uncovering why her mother and her aunt have had a distant and troubled relationship.

There's a lot to unpack in Unleaving, and the pacing isn't quite right--it rushes when it should slow down, especially toward the end, and lags when it could move faster (the best plot developments don't occur till over 45% of the way in.

However, Unleaving is sensitive and thoughtful about trauma survivors and survival, and would be excellent when paired with the classic Speak.
Profile Image for Brooke — brooklynnnnereads.
1,005 reviews247 followers
November 25, 2020
Before I get into my thoughts on this novel I want to acknowledge a few content warnings involved in this story surrounding the following topics: Sexual Assault, Rape, Depression, Trauma, PTSD, Suicide and Drug Abuse.

Now, onto my review.

As you can probably ascertain from the content warning, this is a HEAVY novel. Not in page length but in content. I feel that it's probably good to know the depth and heft of this novel prior to reading because if not, you will be surprised (like I was). It's not a story that is solely hard for one character either, ALL of the characters seem to have some form of a difficult circumstance that they are going through. It really came across as a novel of strength, perseverance, and survival (for all of the characters).

This was an interesting novel but I will say that it was a difficult read for me as the content was quite dark and not typical to what I usually would read. I did enjoy the writing style in accompaniment with the setting of a small cabin in the woods. Even though this novel may not be my personal taste, I can see how it would be a source of strength for many as it's a story of strength. Along with that, this story truly exemplified the importance of relationships and the necessity of having a community of support.

***Thank you to Raincoast Books for sending me an ARC of this novel in exchange for an honest review***
Profile Image for Jay G.
1,235 reviews464 followers
March 30, 2019
Want to see more bookish things from me? Check out my youtube channel: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCfer...

*Thank you to the publisher for sending me a copy of this book in exchange for my honest review*

19-year old Maggie has decided to leave her college after she is assaulted at an off-campus party by a group of popular jocks. After pressing charges, she leaves her hometown to move in with her recluse Aunt Wren, an artist with a dark past of her own. As time goes on, Maggie begins to cope with her trauma but is then contacted by a girl named Jane Cannon asking for advice after she experiences a similar situation to what Maggie dealt with.

This was an emotional read focused on recovery. I loved how there was absolutely no romance in this novel and the sole focus was on Maggie and how she was coping with the traumatic experience she faced. There are flashbacks to what happened to Maggie as well as episodes of PTSD. The book is extremely character driven. Each character is complex and relateable in their own way. I really loved the support system Maggie found when living with her Aunt and I loved how they were also battling their own issues as well. Sam and Linnie's stories were interesting to read about and I loved learning more about them as the story progressed. The strength Maggie finds not only in herself but in those around her was so well-done and I really enjoyed reading her story.

The one biggest complaint I have about this story was Maggie's constant referral to Wren as "the Aunt"... I found it a bit strange.

Overall, I think Ostrom did an amazing job handling a lot of difficult topics in a tasteful way.
Profile Image for Samantha (WLABB).
3,442 reviews233 followers
March 21, 2019
Maggie was gang raped. Maggie was brave and fought for justice. Maggie became a social pariah, and was forced to leave her home. What happened to Maggie, before and after her assault, was wrong, but leaving her hometown put her on her path to healing.

This was an emotional read, but hopeful. I really appreciated that Ostrom focused on Maggie's recovery. There were flashbacks, which I think were there to help us understand her mental state, but they were not graphic. I didn't feel like I needed all the details to understand, that a grievous crime was committed against Maggie, but I did love getting to watch her take back what was stolen from her.

A big part of Maggie's recovery was the amazing "family" Ostrom assembled. Her own parents were helping her, as best they could, but Maggie really did need to get some distance from where the crime was committed. Being with her Aunt, Wren, brought so may other people into her life. Sam, Linnie, Caleb, Kate, Ran and the other bookclub girls were all integral to Maggie's healing process. I especially liked that many of the characters were dealing with their own issues, and it was that shared pain that made their interactions so meaningful. Maggie's story was powerful on its own, but coupled with Wren and Linnie's stories, it packed an even bigger emotional punch.

I also adored the setting. My daughter did her undergraduate degree at Syracuse, so I am fairly well acquainted with Central New York. It was fun to see Dinosaur BBQ and Stella's (two awesome eateries) visited in the book. Ostrom also did a wonderful job taking us to the shores of Lake Ontario. She wrapped me in the sounds, the smells, the colors, and the textures, which really rounded out the experience for me.

I had a love/hate relationship with the ending. I loved that everybody seemed to be healing and good things were happening. Linnie, Wren, and Sam all had such wonderful futures in the works. I also thought the decision Maggie made was fantastic. I never doubted her inner strength, and it was great to see her tapping into it again. My problem was that it seemed a little abrupt. I sort of understand why the author ended where she did, but I still kept looking to see if there were some pages missing.

Overall: This was an incredible healing journey, which showed how important love, support, and understanding can be.

*ARC provided in exchange for an honest review.

Profile Image for Darcy.
209 reviews20 followers
February 28, 2019
Trigger warning for mentions of rape.

Maggie suffered a traumatic event last year - she was raped by multiple guys at her Vermont college during a party. After pressing charges, she deals with harassment all around her from people who either don't believe her and/or don't support her and/or worship the college football player who confessed. To escape the harassment, and to deal with everything, Maggie takes time off of school and goes to upstate New York to stay with her aunt.

This book isn't a love story, like a lot of YA books tend to be. This is a story about healing and found family. When Maggie stays with her aunt, she makes a group of unexpected friends - Sam and Linnie, who had a kid in high school five years ago but aren't really together anymore, a group of girls at a book club in the next town over, and Caleb, who will help her when she needs to go on a road trip to confront her past.

Unleaving is heartbreaking at times, but realistic - those who you think will support you when you go through something traumatic might not be supportive after all. Those who you don't expect to support you could. And though everyone should be supportive, you should be allowed to heal in your own way. Overall, this novel is well-written, important, and timely.

Thank you to netgalley for an e-arc in exchange for an honest review.
Profile Image for PinkAmy loves books, cats and naps .
2,307 reviews220 followers
March 31, 2019
DNF at 41%

I feel like I’m breaking girl code with my thoughts about UNLEAVING. I don’t think I’ve ever hated hating a book as much as this.

After being gang raped by popular guys at college, then being targeted by bullies, Maggie flees town to live with her estranged aunt Wren and heal. Except she doesn’t go to therapy, though she had some at home. She doesn’t read rape survivor books or join a support group. Her plan seems to be healing through osmosis.

While I understood Maggie’s struggles, being a rape survivor myself, I had a hard time feeling empathy for her. She ignores another rape survivor from her college who has reached out for support, lies to a new potential friend about her name and basically tells another young woman to be careful not to get raped. Linnie, who is a hot mess, then calls Maggie on her double goes into monologue about toxic masculinity.

Nothing about the reading experience of UNLEAVING was pleasant. I’m okay with a dark, sad read that has voice and passion. This had neither and felt like a chore.

Because I’m in the minority and from reviews the book must improve, I gave 2 stars, but it was a one star read for me.
Profile Image for Shaye Miller.
1,236 reviews81 followers
March 26, 2019
19-year-old Maggie Arioli is the victim of a gang rape that took place in her small college town, just last year. After her assault, she sought help at the police station and with her college administration. But as the perpetrators were athletic heroes of Carleton College, Maggie was immediately considered an outcast, demonized for tainting the names of the young men in question. In an effort to heal from the trauma and move forward, Maggie is taking a year off from school. With her parents’ blessing, she heads out of town to stay with her Aunt Wren in a small cabin just off Lake Ontario in New York. Over time, Maggie carefully branches out, joining a book group in a nearby town and meeting some of the other local townspeople. As friendships develop, we learn that she is certainly not the only seemingly broken person in Aunt Wren’s town. And it turns out that even hurting victims can be a strong support system for others in need.

I loved this book! I didn’t want to put it down, but I also didn’t want it to end. Unlike stories that keep the reader engaged with cliffhangers and constant action, Unleaving carefully reveals the private lives of several characters in the story, inviting the reader to contemplate their status, their childhoods, and the pain they each carry. I was in awe of the layers woven into each character as we are urged to consider how every variable impacts the decisions we make, making us all so very different from each other. Most importantly, this book is a call to stand by one another — to openly show support and elevate victims we encounter, even when everyone else is questioning and assuming and judging with useless stereotypes. More than once this book turned the world on its side, forcing me to consider something new. I really thought I knew what to expect with Unleaving, but I was so very moved by this book. Tears and chills. Five stars — HIGHLY recommend! My thanks to Melissa Ostrom and to Feiwel and Friends for providing me an Advanced Reader’s Copy of this book. I read it by choice and am happy to provide my honest review.

Trigger warning for mentions of rape. While the scene of Maggie’s assault is not described in vivid detail, short flashbacks pop up occasionally, providing brief clips to let the reader know of Maggie’s experience.

For more book reviews, especially focused on kidlit, MGlit, and YAlit, please visit The Miller Memo.

3-24-19 first response:
Wow. Wow. WOW! Powerful. Need some time to process before I finish my review.
Will be back in a day or two...
(UNLEAVING is publishing this Tuesday)
3 reviews
May 10, 2019
This book is not about rape. —Well, it is & it isn’t, in the way that an Edith Wharton novel is about manners, or a Harry Potter book is “about” magic. It is the setting, it suffuses the content, but it’s not the subject.

The subject is the recovery from trauma.

While the trauma of rape shares aspects with other survived horrors, it also has its own specific griefs, & author Ostrom approaches all of them with a beautiful delicacy & sensitivity. She doesn’t shy away from the intensity of (Maggie) the protagonist’s feelings, but also doesn’t go into salacious detail of the brutal event itself.

After that brutal event, Maggie has chosen to take time off from college, time away from the town that harassed her over the scandal involving their “golden boys”, time away from —she’s hoping—her own life & brain. What she discovers about healing, about herself & other people is a fascinating journey.

Author Melissa Ostrom has crafted a beautiful story of Maggie, as well as the family & friends— & friends that become family— that interact with her. Their stories are just as real and interesting— as is the setting of Western New York. The location is treated almost as another character, described in detail that only comes from intense & loving observation.

The book is ultimately hopeful about humans & our capacity to forgive, to heal, & to embrace hope. It’s a good thing to read in our troubled times, I highly recommend taking Maggie & her family’s journey with them.
Profile Image for Erin Varley.
101 reviews12 followers
April 1, 2019
Unleaving is not my typical read. I usually stick to middle grade, but knowing that I loved Melissa's other book, The Beloved Wild, I knew I had to read this one, as well. Unleaving is contemporary, a study of the human condition. Melissa is a master storyteller- offering her readers more than just a story, but a chance to live and breathe Maggie's journey toward healing. Get it. Read it. And don't be surprised if it stays with you for a long time.
Profile Image for Hannah.
33 reviews29 followers
April 18, 2019
This was a book I didn’t realize I needed. It paints a perfect picture of the complexities of being female in today’s culture, of how unlinear processing trauma is, of the power and healing you can get from the places you never expected. I read this book in one sitting, and even though it wasn’t always comfortable, it was amazing. I loved this - easily one of my favorite books I’ve read this April.
Profile Image for Grace P.
351 reviews39 followers
March 26, 2019
3.75/5 Stars

As a college student, Maggie falls into the older section of Young Adult fiction, but UNLEAVING does not quite fit the New Adult genre of fiction. While there are mature topics and a higher level of maturity among the characters, this novel includes many common YA themes. One of the most influential and memorable elements of this story is that it does not focus on romance in any way, which is a rarity in the YA genre today. Ostrom instead focuses primarily on Maggie’s healing and the development of those around her like Sam, her family, and Linnie.

Containing intertwining stories that are realistic and inherently messy, the plot of UNLEAVING is wholly character-based. It brings together many characters who end up changing each other’s lives. Not much happens plot-wise, but Maggie and her aunt’s assistant, Sam, face many issues. Sam’s high school girlfriend, Linnie, ended up being one of my favorite characters, and her support of Maggie made me enjoy her character. Other aspects that I appreciated came from the book club Maggie joins. As an avid reader myself, I am always happy to see characters who are readers. I also could not help but appreciate the focus on family in this book. Not only is Maggie going through rough times, but her mom and aunt have their history to work through, and the details slowly come to light throughout the story.

I began reading UNLEAVING with very few expectations or even in-depth knowledge of the plot, but it left me with a broader perspective on many issues. It is always worthwhile to read a book that leaves you more informed about the world. I was very quickly transported into the mind of Maggie and her troubles but never felt like I needed to put the book down because the content was too heavy. Even without an action-filled plot, I could not stop turning the pages. Ostrom created a book that is unique from any other books that I have read with similar themes. I recommend UNLEAVING to readers who enjoyed Amber Smith’s THE WAY I USED TO BE. Both stories are compelling and bound to change the worldview of their readers.
Profile Image for Kiana.
952 reviews45 followers
June 4, 2019
Despite having almost nothing in common with Ostrom’s other book, The Beloved Wild, Unleaving left me with a similar impression to her debut. Both books are surprisingly quiet, understated, and slow-moving, and the plots themselves are nothing to write home about (which is not to say that Unleaving’s plot is underwhelming or disappointing—if anything, the subject matter is so, so necessary—but the way that it’s explored isn’t especially surprising); the winning moments come from the interactions between characters and the well-built rural communities and found families that Ostrom creates that, despite the sparse prose, feel so complex and real that they practically breathe.

Going into Unleaving, I was expecting it to be about the aftermath of a sexual assault, in the vein of Exit, Pursued By a Bear, but, while that is the framing device for the story, it’s decidedly detached from the raw ugliness of the actual attack. Maggie’s assault happens months before the story begins and she’s already dealt with the immediate aftermath in terms of press and bullying—the book instead covers her time staying with her aunt in her wilderness lake house and the people she meets there who help her find her voice again after so much has been taken from her. These characters are so dynamic and dimensional (with the exception of a bratty five-year-old) that, in many ways, Unleaving doesn’t really end up being Maggie’s story: instead, it’s a story about numerous people and how they all respond to their personal demons (in ways both healthy and unhealthy) and inspire one another with their resilience. Maggie just becomes the lens through which we view this truth.

This is a story about moments, and the moments within this story are incredibly rich. Ostrom’s writing is so smooth, with conversations that flow as easily and steadily as the tide and brief descriptions that are intoxicating as gliding through clear water. Every word in this novel counts and the quiet simplicity of the prose ends up packing a bigger punch than many far more verbose pieces. If at first it runs the risk of being too detached—the third-person narration definitely contributed to this at the beginning (though perhaps I’ve just grown so accustomed to first-person narration that it only seemed jarring to me), but as you become immersed in the story, or rather the book’s world, the initial stiltedness melts away. Hell, the only misstep in the writing that I can think of is the constant reference to Maggie’s Aunt Wren as “the aunt,” just because it felt so impersonal and weird—maybe Ostrom was just trying to change up her descriptors? But Maggie’s mom was never described as “the mom” or Sam as “the neighbor,” and so forth.

Unleaving is not a book for people who want plot-based stories and it’s not the traumatizing, overwhelming read that one might expect from a novel handling sexual assault. But it’s hard to imagine that you won’t be immersed once you begin reading it. Ostrom has a rare talent for making worlds and characters that are so relaxing and genuine, and this is the type of deceptively simple storytelling that will really get under your skin. I can tell from the numbers that this book isn’t garnering a ton of publicity, but it’s definitely worth a read, and I sincerely hope that there will be more novels from Ostrom in the future.

3.5 stars.
Profile Image for Kara.
539 reviews168 followers
March 5, 2019
I attempted to read this, but it's just not holding my attention, so I'm DNFing. It's not bad, I'm just very picky about contemporary novels these days, and it takes something special to keep me reading. I'm sure it's an important book for the right person, and it's definitely a topic that I appreciate an author writing about. It just wasn't for me.

That said, I thought the setting was lovely, as was the voice. You should give it a try if you are into contemporary books about serious topics.

CW: talk of sexual assault
Profile Image for Claire Funk.
3 reviews2 followers
May 27, 2020
deftly navigates trauma without being overly indulgent and does a good job of showcasing PTSD in survivors accurately!! you could tell there was a lot of care in developing the main character. appreciated how many plot lines/characters there were that were richly developed and didn’t just feel like backdrops in the main character’s life.
Profile Image for Continental Drifter.
5 reviews1 follower
July 3, 2019
This book was intense. I really enjoyed it. I enjoyed how it openly discussed difficult concepts, while still feeling real, like life really is...messy. And the way Maggie's own mental state evolves during the book feels authentic, like that's the way a real survivor of rape would behave.

If there's one thing I think may have been a bit too fanciful, too incongruent with our reality, it's the way Linnie's arc ends. Don't get me wrong - Linnie's character is one of the things that turns this book from a decent read into a great one. She's fierce, devastatingly self-aware, and her story plays as a nice counterpoint to Maggie's. And I get why the author wanted to give us reason for optimism, the ability to believe that she could heal and have a life. But all too often, the Linnies of the world get chewed up and spit out, permanently broken, and the way her story ends just seems too upbeat, too saccharine. Linnie's character serves two main purposes in this book - to show Maggie a possible destination she could be heading towards if she doesn't force herself to confront her trauma, and to prove to Maggie (and the reader) that good things CAN happen to people who have had crappy lives (giving Maggie hope for her own life). But honestly, I see many struggles in Linnie's future: relapses, self-sabotage, catastrophizing, pushing away the people who are trying to love her (even Sam, Kate and ). The way her arc ends doesn't do justice to people who are battling similar demons, especially since the path she follows in the narrative (from the time we meet her until the end of the book) is almost always improving, at least from Maggie's perspective. We don't see her crash and burn. Sure, she does have issues during the time Maggie knows her, even one or two really serious situations, but Maggie (and by extension, the reader) don't get to SEE the visceral ugliness as it unfolds. I think that does a disservice to the story as a whole.

I liked the way the relationship between Wren and Minerva evolved as well. The complexity of their situation, and the emotions involved was quite well-communicated, and the way Maggie was used to develop THAT particular plot point (with the photo albums and her grandfather) was very effective. One thing I'm not sure what to make of is why the author keeps on using distancing language when referring to Wren. I can't count the number of times I read "The aunt did..." or whatever. I liked it in the beginning; it's a creative way to show how Wren is basically a stranger to Maggie. But as they grew close, I was surprised to see the same language used. That confused me a bit.

Anyway, great book, highly recommended. It's a nice companion novel to "Exit, Pursued by a Bear" by E.K. Johnston (in my opinion). I think this pair of exceptional books shows us all that there's clearly no one right way to write about the topic of rape (perhaps some wrong ways)...and there's no right way to BE a survivor. People heal in their own ways, in their own TIME. Given that so many young women (and men) are living with the trauma of having been raped (or otherwise assaulted), that's a message that NEEDS to be spread.
December 2, 2018
Unleaving is a timely reflection of an ongoing societal problem: rape and its aftermath, particularly the complicated matter of healing. Yet Melissa Ostrom's second novel is not a depressing read because she imbues her main character Maggie's struggle to heal with the universal need we all have to heal ourselves and our world. The result is an optimistic view of what humans are capable of accomplishing, even after suffering the worst ordeals.

Maggie is a strong young woman who endures a lot and stands up for herself and others. But that is only part of the story, and it remains the backdrop to the daily interactions Maggie has with those she meets in her new life away from the college where the rape took place. Overall, this is a story of healing through kinship - not just family kinship, though Maggie does develop a bond with her aunt as they heal together from traumatic events of their pasts - but also the kinship of good people trying to be their best. There is a struggling young mother, a frustrated father, and a little girl who won't let her parents give up on her or themselves. And there is the loving environment of the group of people who Maggie comes to know and rely upon as she finds the outer boundaries of her own inner strength.

One of the things I enjoyed most about this book is the way characters, particularly women, help each other as they form or mend relationships. Melissa Ostrom handles the issues of rape, loss, betrayal, shame, and the trauma that forms from any one of these experiences with a strong yet delicate touch. In this way, she allows her characters to reveal their humanity in all its fragility even as they demonstrate incredible strength.
Profile Image for Meghan.
2,073 reviews
October 27, 2018
Unleaving is a good book to read if you are just starting college or about to start college within the next year. The book described a situation that seems to be the norm of the college lifestyle. Go to a party, meet a guy, and now a victim of date rape. This is a pretty close reflection of the Me Too campaign going on and the moral definitely is that silence is a killer and when the victim no matter the circumstance such as hate from other students going around campus and hateful emails sent, knowing that you did the right thing and the bravery to deal with the consequences, is true strength and that is exactly what Maggie displayed throughout the whole book.

Thank you Netgalley and Macmillan Children's Publishing Group for the ARC in exchange for an honest review. We will definitely consider adding this title to our YFiction collection. That is why we give this book 5 stars.
Profile Image for Cindy.
38 reviews1 follower
February 2, 2019
An important topic and well written page turner! Maggie decides to leave her college campus after an off campus assault. She turned in the names of her attackers and is victim shamed for doing so due to the fact that the guilty are popular athletes from the college. She goes to stay with an aunt as she grapples with what happened and deals with anxiety, depression and panic attacks. When she discovers that another girl at the college that had a similar experience emailed her, Maggie must decide if she’s strong enough to contact this victim and provide her with support and advice. You will be thinking about Maggie long after the last page is turned.
Profile Image for Marsha Rivers.
2 reviews24 followers
April 2, 2019
I had a hard time with this one, to be honest. It was well-written – don't get me wrong – but I hated that it needed to be written. I hate what happened to Maggie, what happened to me, and what happens to millions of sexual assault victims daily. Nevertheless, I am grateful for the author's boldness, bravery, and beautiful prose. Exposing dark to light brings healing, somehow – through the grace of our Creator and the empathy of authentic community. Thank God for the Aunt Wrens of the world!
Profile Image for Barbara.
13.1k reviews271 followers
April 27, 2019
This is a 3.5 for me, a sophomore effort from the author. Although there are several points at which the pacing of this book seems odd and there are also some strange shifts from one scene to the other, it's still an important and relevant book, given some of the recent conversations about sexual assaults on college campuses. Nineteen-year-old Maggie Arioli has decided to take a break from her college career after having been gang raped at an off-campus party. Maggie chose to report the assault, which resulted in the removal of several athletes at Carlton College in Vermont, including the popular quarterback of the football team. She's had a particularly rough year, having been vilified by many sports fans for her actions. Although she stayed strong throughout her ordeal, she remains traumatized and needs a break so her parents arrange for her to stay in rural New York with her maternal aunt, Wren, an artist and sculptor, and her mother's twin sister. The two sisters have a fraught relationship, made even more complicated by Wren's accusations about their father, now deceased. Slowly, in fits and starts, Maggie starts to heal and to let others into her life. One of those that she allows to know her is Linnie, the troubled wife of a neighbor who sees just how strong Maggie has been but wonders why she chose to leave campus. In the midst of her healing, Maggie receives emails from another Carlton student who is looking for advice about what to do after her own rape. The passages with brief flashbacks to Maggie's assault and her slow recovery and reluctance to trust anyone, let alone regard any male as a potential romantic or sexual partner, have an authentic ring. Coupled with the scene in which a bartender back home refuses to even serve her a soft drink when she and two friends drop by for a meal, these passages show just how much someone in Maggie's situation must endure and how often victims are blamed for what happened to them. It is also worth noting just how lonely Maggie seemed to be during her college year. I particularly liked the way this story unfolded and loved the opening lines describing what Maggie did not do in preparation for her second year of college, forced to take a detour because of what happened to her the previous year. The book might have been stronger if it had contained more passages like the opening one and more glimpses into the aftermath of the assault instead of focusing on some of the other characters. Still, this is an important book and an excellent reminder of the assumptions many make about what happens on campus and how hard it can be for others to believe that someone they admire could ever assault a woman. So often, women are made to bear the responsibility for what happens to them, being cautioned not to dress or act a certain way or go to certain places. Discussing whose responsibility all this is makes for heady and necessary conversations about consent.
Profile Image for reenie.
542 reviews101 followers
July 24, 2019
I picked up Unleaving because I thought the cover and title looked fascinating. I saw similarities between Speak and Unleaving. The reason why Unleaving didn't get 5 stars is that I strongly dislike books told in third person because it makes the entire story feel impersonal.

I wish there was more elaboration on Maggie's mother's relationship with her father because it's hinted at, but it could have made a beautiful and emotional character arc. Minerva's mental health is touched on, but I was very disappointed that more wasn't explored.

I like that Maggie didn't have a romantic relationship with anyone because this story focused on her recovery story slowly but surely after her assault. Linnie was my favorite character because she is easily the most complicated person with the most in-depth relationships. Linnie and Sam are an interesting balance of characters because on the surface, they act like complete opposites, but underneath, they are quite identical.

How Ms. Melissa Ostrom ended the story feels hopeful but also leaves the majority of relationships undecided, especially the family dynamic of Sam, Linnie, and Kate. Jane and Maggie's relationship, in the synopsis, seemed like the central story, but it was only a minor storyline, which was another disappointment. The story felt too short to hit my emotional depths, but I still thoroughly enjoyed a story relevant to 2019 about sexual assault.

Happy Wednesday! Hope your day is going well. And if it isn't, I hope that tomorrow or sometime in the near future, it gets better. Because I promise that it will. Maybe not today or tomorrow, but soon.

Do things that make you happy, and above else, amor omnia vincent.

with love forever,
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Profile Image for Nomadic Librarian.
339 reviews6 followers
June 17, 2019
In this timely novel that speaks to the rape culture pervasive in our society, 19-year-old college student Maggie is assaulted at a fraternity party and leaves school and her hometown to escape the vicious backlash by fans of the college football team after several players are expelled. She goes to live with her Aunt Wren, a famous artist who left her family at 18 and remained estranged from both parents and her twin sister, Maggie’s mother Min. Although it’s meant as an escape and a chance to heal from the PTSD she has suffered as the result of the trauma, Maggie struggles to put the past behind her because of the drama surrounding her aunt and the neighbors. When she begins receiving emails from another student who has been raped and is looking to Maggie for help, she wonders if she will able to heal or if the reminders of that night will continue to haunt her.

Unleaving is a worthy successor to Laurie Halse Anderson’s Speak. Ostrom successfully navigates not only the issues of rape, shame and victim-blaming, but also the damage done by abusive parents and the foster care system and the inadvisability of trying to bury the past rather than work through it. Through Maggie, she also demonstrates that many people have two faces, and that those who love them often don’t see the dark side. Characters such as Linnie who bears the emotional scars of an abusive childhood, Sam who has never truly mourned his mother’s death, their five-year-old daughter Kate, and Aunt Wren and Min who won’t address the reason for the estrangement are well-developed and ultimately serve as catalysts for Maggie to face her fears and return to the scene of the crime. The only criticism is that the ending was abrupt, leaving several unanswered questions.Trigger warning for rape and other kinds of abuse. Highly recommended for libraries that serve young adults.

I received a complimentary ARC of this book from Feiwel & Friends through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. Opinions expressed are completely my own.
1 review
June 7, 2019
Ostrom is to be commended for courageously choosing a difficult and timely topic that is too frequently minimized or ignored in today’s YA literature. "Unleaving" exemplifies the complex ways in which trauma impacts the individuals, family systems and communities, as well as the intergenerational challenges experienced related to healing. Ostrom achieves a delicate balance of providing enough details to help readers understand the devastation and struggle associated with recovery from rape, without overwhelming the young reader with unnecessarily graphic details for this age group. Of greatest note, Ostrom’s characters, Maggie, Linnie, Wren and Jane, realistically reflect the importance of giving those healing from rape the space, time and right, to recover and reclaim their inner resiliency and strength through processes best suited for their own unique needs and personalities. Equally, through her depiction of Kate, Ostrom highlights the secondary impact on the children of those recovering. One recommendation I would make to the author and publishers given the topic and the prevalence of the issue in our society – at the back of the book, provide readers with possible ways to access resources (e.g. hotlines, websites) for support for those who have experienced trauma in their own lives. Kudos for taking on the topic at such a critical time!

Amy H. Gaesser, PhD, NCC
Assistant Professor, Department of Counselor Education
The College at Brockport State University of New York
234 reviews13 followers
June 28, 2019
I know it is a pet peeve of some to start a review by saying I don't normally read young adult, but unfortunately, it is the truth. I try to read it because I am a middle school teacher and want to be able to recommend a broad range to my students. I usually abandon most YA at about 50 pages. I am sensitive to language and not a big fan of romance (especially lust filled) in books.

With all of those confessions out of the way, I could NOT put this book down! There was some language, but I felt it necessary to the story so it didn't bother me. I enjoyed the complex relationships between Maggie and her parents and her mom and aunt (identical twins). The story explores the trauma of sexual assault in a very sensitive way. The actual incident is remembered in vague details. Further traumas are alluded to by other characters but not explicit. This was an incredible window book to see and feel the impact of trauma in a personal way. It is also a hard hitting look at rape culture in college and the idealization of athletes. Because of the topics, I would not recommend this to middle school students, but I do feel that it is an important story for anyone nearing college age, in college, or beyond. #LitReviewCrew
Profile Image for Kathy.
Author 18 books288 followers
August 11, 2019
I finished this book feeling very moved and heartened, with much to ponder. Ostrom has created such vivid characters and a story that is by turns compelling, raw, honest, tender, disturbing, real, heartbreaking, and ultimately hopeful. It is centered on the character of Maggie, who has gone to live with her aunt in the wake of a year marked by her rape and the fallout she endured from going forward and pressing charges. I won't summarize the plot here, but what struck me most about this superbly written novel, is how Ostrom conveys the transcendent power of love and acceptance and forgiveness. Maggie is a courageous young woman, but she is also human and hurting. The people surrounding her also have their pains, some of them kept secret. Maggie has learned compassion and empathy by what she herself has gone through. (She and other characters are also passionate readers which is thrilling.) In the end, Ostrom resists solving all her characters' problems and tying this story up with a neat bow. Instead, she tells a layered, complex, and timely story with both tenderness and candor. This novel is one I highly and enthusiastically recommend for all audiences.
Profile Image for Niki.
1,104 reviews9 followers
February 18, 2019
Unleaving is a strong story of resiliency, family, friendship, and understanding. Maggie is raped in her first year of college and when she speaks up about her rape, her small college town turns on her. Maggie leaves to spend the upcoming year with her Aunt Wren, a potter living on the shores of Lake Ontario. She is surrounded by people who see her strength, but Maggie needs time to see it too. While in the wilds, Maggie also meets her aunts collection of neighbours and friends, and finds herself invested in their happiness, strength, and futures, as well.

I appreciated Ostrom's sensitivity to the difficult topic and found all references to sexual abuse tastefully done. One small detail that bothered me was the repeated referral to Wren as "the aunt", not "her" aunt or something more common. "The" aunt seemed odd to me . If there was a deeper meaning to it, it was lost on me.

Unleaving is a great YA book that I would recommend for libraries serving students in grades 8+.
Profile Image for Alicia Charland.
26 reviews1 follower
April 2, 2019
The imagery and setting of Ostrom’s second book hooked me from the beginning. I absolutely loved the unlikely friendships in this story and how at times, I expected romance, but was happily surprised that Maggie found her strength to carry on through the development of unlikely friendships with other women and men. Any reader can empathize with Maggie, but quickly empathize with other characters in the books whose more minor stories thread into Maggie’s life with a purpose and lesson of their own. Not typically a fan of YA realistic fiction, I was swept right into this story, in part because I immediately cared about several characters, but also because I loved that the setting eventually become a place of healing and safety for Maggie. The setting is modeled after my home town. This is a must read for any mature, local teenager AND unique in that it’s about people in early adulthood. Though the topic is tough, it's handled sensitively and was clearly well researched because the portrayal of PTSD was realistic. I also really liked the artistic element.
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