Heidi's Reviews > Unspoken

Unspoken by Sarah Rees Brennan
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's review
Dec 01, 2011

really liked it
bookshelves: 2012-favorites
Read from September 10 to 13, 2012

Okay, so it’s been a few days and I think my rage face has worn off a bit and I can talk to you all about all of the things I absolutely loved about Sarah Rees Brennan’s Unspoken without being completely bias against the whole thing because of the ending*. So, here it goes, review time!

Forest deep, silent bells
There’s a secret no one tells
Valley quiet, water still
Lynburns watching on the hill
Apples red, corn gold
Almost everyone grows old.

Intrepid young journalist Kami Glass knows there are secrets in her quiet small town of Sorry-in-the Vale, she knows the Lynburns are at the heart of it, and she knows no one wants to talk. When the Lynburns return after a generation away, Kami sees her chance to get to the bottom of things. If only having the Lynburns so near didn’t mean losing hold of her own secret and realizing that her imaginary friend wasn’t so imaginary after all.

I’ll be honest, it’s been a good long while since I read a strait up YA book that really grabbed me. I’ve been sticking largely to adult or middle grade fiction lately, or YA that plays the crossover game as I was simply done with those aspects that much of YA had to offer. And then, I picked up Unspoken.

-Girl who never quite fit in with all the other kids. Check.
-Mysterious new boy(s) in town who are interested in her. Check.
-Love triangle of sorts. Check.
-Angst. Check.
-Series. Check.

That’s right, there’s this whole list of things that I hate about YA novels, and they’re in Unspoken, but I didn’t care. The sheer awesomeness that was this story, the wonderful characters that defied YA stereotypes, the complete grip it held me in made Unspoken just the YA book to remind me that they’re not all the same.

In Unspoken, author Sarah Rees Brennan has achieved that rare balance between character and story, where all aspects are so well entwined that it becomes impossible to imagine one without the other. I was enraptured by the story, and completely invested in the characters to the point that I could not sleep while reading this book because I could not stop thinking about it. Days later, I still can’t stop thinking about it.

So let’s talk about the things that make Unspoken so unique and wonderful, despite that little bulleted list above.

1) No absent parent syndrome. Kami isn’t just a teen, she’s a daughter and a sister, and that is quite evident in the story. Her relationships with both her parents, her two younger brothers, and her deceased grandmother help us to understand who she is as a person and to appreciate the disparity between the childhoods she and Jared have had. Her family isn’t just mentioned at the beginning and then never heard from again, they’re there. They worry about Kami, they care for Kami. They like to know where she is and who she’s with, and they really don’t approve of her hanging out with “those Lynburn boys”.

2) Her girlfriends don’t disappear when the boys show up. Usually when we have these stories of the quirky girls that are always on the outside (in Kami’s case, everyone thinks she’s more than a bit nuts for those times when she’s lost in her head talking to her imaginary friend, Jared), they’re either devoid of friends, or what friends they had disappear from the text as soon as romantic possibilities come into play. Kami actively works against this, in fact, she makes a new friend in Holly at the prompting of Jared, and is very grateful for it in the end. I loved the female relationships in this book, not just because they were there, but because they exhibited good healthy girlfriends who were there for one another in good times and bad, didn’t judge (except when they were trying to be helpful), and listened when they needed to.

3) Not only all of that, but Kami’s friends Holly and Angela are the two hottest chicks in school. They’re those girls who we stereotype as ‘those popular bitches’ because all of the boys want them, and they know it, and yet Holly and Angela are completely sweet (okay Angela’s a bit grumpy, but as someone who also hates people and adores napping, I love her), genuine, and totally break that ‘mean girl’ mold. Turns out it doesn’t matter if you drive a bike, wear sparkles and heels, cutesy dresses, or scowls–as long as you’re awesome, you’re a winning girl in my book.

4) Unspoken features and embraces multiculturalism and looks at prejudice in unusual ways. Kami is 1/4 Japanese, and her relationship with her Japanese grandmother was very important to her. The prejudices we see in Sorry-in-the-Vale stem largely from a xenophobia of those who are considered “outsiders”, which is potentially anyone whose family hasn’t lived in the vale for hundreds of years. Other specific brushes with differences and prejudice appear throughout the story, and I love that they were present and excellently handled.

5) The love triangle in Unspoken isn’t really laid out as one would predict. In fact, it’s one I hesitate to call a love triangle at all as I’m not sure there’s any genuine romance anywhere in these pages (which I love). Kami and Jared’s relationship is one of the most complicated and unpredictable I have seen in YA, and I was completely fascinated by it. It’s a relationship that’s more intimate than romance, and that makes it too much for love:

Saying he was part of her or that they were more than friends sounded like love, but it seemed like a 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 and Jared have been in one another’s heads since they were born. They share everything, every feeling, every event, all of those things someone might only share with a diary–because someone that doesn’t exist is the safest person of all. When Jared and Kami meet, they go through a confused barrage of emotions that seems at a glance must be wonderful, but upon further inspection is horrifying. They cannot trust their own emotions, because they don’t know how much they are projecting on one another. To realize that someone knows you so completely that you are almost dependent upon one another for every breath means that you must always mean everything to one another, and that risking the rejection that could come if romantic thoughts were ever in play becomes too great.

To Jared, the link between himself and Kami was some sort of gift that he received undeserved, a gift that redeemed the rest of his life. His lack of confidence in himself and her relationship to him is to the point of manic, and Kami feels the constant weight of holding Jared together. To Kami, the link means she can never be alone, can never trust herself to reveal to Jared how she feels, and can never really even be sure if her feelings are real. It’s unhealthy, but my girl Kami is level headed enough to see this even through the cloud of Jared’s dependence and adoration, and I love her for her braveness.

The struggle of a relationship that is both symbiotic and parasitic makes Unspoken shine, and places an unexpected amount of emotional depth under a story that is exciting, harrowing, and fun. For everyone who loves those Gothic stories with mansions, evil, and a distinct lack of safety in sleepy small towns, Unspoken delivers.

*I actually want to clarify my annoyance with this ending. I dislike when major plot lines are left open, which I feel like they were here as far as the action went, BUT I did actually like the relationship developments toward the end of the story. I feel they were necessary, but I’m so angry at certain characters’ words and actions I could spit.

Original review posted at Bunbury in the Stacks.
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Reading Progress

09/10 page 3
0.0% "Six hundred years do not go by without someone doing something nefarious."
09/10 page 41
11.0% ""Kami strongly felt that Fridays should not be full of disappointments." Met too, Kami, me too."
09/12 page 116
31.0% "Defenestrate. I shall add this to my list of favorite words describing very specific and odd things that may only be properly used on occasion."
07/14 marked as: read

Comments (showing 1-3 of 3) (3 new)

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Alyssa (Books Take You Places) Sooo about reading series before they're fully published...LOL Should I wait for this one? :D

Steph One time I used that joke on facebook when I was mad about something and a cult of girls I went to highschool with ranted to me about violence against babies.

Heidi Bwahaha, I feel like we may have to start putting disclaimers at the end of our posts. *No babies were harmed in the making of this rant*

And yeah, Alyssa, I just wrote a whole ranty pants post about my hatred of series and how I am DONE WITH THEM because of this book. I think you'd like it...seriously, Jared screams GUY ALYSSA WOULD LOVE at me, but for your own sanity wait.

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