My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Within the first ten pages of Unraveling, the main character, Janelle Tenner, dies from a runaway pick-up. A fellow student from her school, Ben Michaels, revives her and then runs off before she fully awakens. Convinced there’s more than meets the eye with Ben, Janelle won’t give up trying to figure out how and what he did to her and why she isn’t dead, even facing her best friend’s refusal to believe she died and Ben’s denial of ever resurrecting her. As she pieces together that puzzle, Janelle plays detective on a case her F.B.I. agent father is working on, by rifling through top secret files and eavesdropping, that involves a mysterious countdown and people dying of radiation poisoning, which are somehow connected to the man behind the wheel of the vehicle that hit her and possibly even to Ben as well.
The author did a great job setting up the story with a slow build that introduces Janelle’s life, both at home and at school, along with any free time she may have, and accelerates once it hits the halfway point until it reaches the book’s climactic ending. In particular, the development of her home life was interesting and had depth. She has a mother who’s bi-polar and not “there” most of the time and a father who seemingly avoids dealing with the realities of his wife’s mental illness by being a workaholic, so all the household responsibilities fall on Janelle’s shoulders. She takes care of her family and does the majority of the cleaning, cooking, laundry, and most importantly of all, being a mother to her younger brother, Jared. She makes sure he does his homework, has meals, and gets to school on time. What’s nice about their relationship is that he actually respects his sister and there isn’t much in the way of petty arguments, which was refreshing. I liked the whole interrelationships of the core family: Janelle, Jared, and their father. They all loved each other, faults and all, and even adding in the situation that Janelle’s mother is in, they felt like a genuine family. Adding to that, both Alex (Janelle’s best friend and my favorite character) and Struz (her dad’s partner/friend) were a part of the family too. If there was anything that stood out in the book for me, it was how people related to each other in it, for good or ill. I loved Alex and Janelle’s friendship, again it was really authentic, and they were just that, best friends. No romantic agenda going on, no secret one-sided yearning, only true friendship where they looked out for one another.
Janelle herself was a strong character, but not so strong she never showed her feelings. She could be quick-tempered, but usually for good reason, she stood up for herself when necessary, and was sensible, so while she could be judgmental and at times conceited, those flaws made her realistic. Nobody’s perfect. The experiences she’s had to live through have molded her, so every action and reaction she made made perfect sense to who she is, whether it’s flying off the handle or falling into pieces. While I can’t say I ever totally liked her, I understood and respected her; there aren’t many YA characters I can say that about. Every character in the book had their own identity, whether they had a small role to play or a bigger one, so there was no confusion to who they were. Ben, the mysterious “stoner”, is of course the love interest. He could have been more fully fleshed out, but I still got a basic idea of who he was and he’s at least a nice guy, which is a novel idea these days. The love story between Janelle and Ben felt like it could actually happen that way. The chemistry between the two was well-written so the magnetic attraction between them is palpable. I remember how it is to be a teenager (scary but true), and I hate to be such a broken record, but it felt realistic. Do I think it was love? No, not yet, but they have a connection and it’s a start towards something serious.
The plot is intriguing and has a lot of good ideas that generally mesh well together. Each short chapter, some less than a page long, features numbers counting down to the big event that’s at the core of the novel. I’m not going to go into details since it’d be too hard to do without giving anything away, but I will say that I enjoyed how the story was told and how it unfolded. While this is sci-fi, it’s light on the ‘sci’ part and not everything is explained as well as it could be, but hopefully the sequel will tackle some of the bigger components. Most of my complaints are trivial: the ending was rushed for an almost 450 page book, there was a passing comment about AAA that wasn’t right, the phrase ‘junior detective’ was used just a little too much, an info dump that would have worked better as dialogue, and a couple of other inconsistencies that hopefully were caught before the final copy was printed. However, I admit to some ire at an event that happened at the end, I just didn’t feel there was any need for it plot-wise and thought it total overkill. That was unfortunate but overall I still enjoyed the book cover to cover. A solid four-star book that’s a cut above the rest and left me looking forward to the sequel.
Originally reviewed: August 15
Received: Amazon Vine