#17 = Unspoken by Sarah Rees Brennan

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UNSPOKEN by Sarah Rees Brennan

jacket flap blurb

Kami Glass loves someone she’s never met…a boy she’s talked to in her head ever since she was born. She wasn’t silent about her imaginary friend during her childhood, and is thus a bit of an outsider in her sleepy English town of Sorry-in-the-Vale. Still, Kami hasn’t suffered too much from not fitting in. She has a best friend,runs the school newspaper, and is only occasionally caught talking to herself. Her life is in order, just the way she likes it, despite the voice in her head.

But all that changes when the Lynburns return.

The Lynburn family has owned the spectacular and sinister manor that overlooks Sorry-in-the-Vale for centuries. The mysterious twin sisters who abandoned their ancestral home a generation ago are back, along with their teenage sons, Jared and Ash, one of whom is eerily familiar to Kami. Kami is not one to shy away from the unknown—in fact, she’s determined t find answers for all the questions Sorry-in-the-Vale is suddenly posing. Who is responsible for the bloody deeds in the depths of the woods? What is her own mother hiding? And now that her imaginary friend has become a real boy, does she still love him? Does she hate him? Can she trust him?

Sarah Rees Brennan brings Gothic romance kicking and screaming into the twenty-first century with a heroine who can take care of herself, a boy who needs to be saved, and the magical forces that bring them together and tear them apart.

thoughts

I loved Kami’s narration. She’s witty and clever and logical. No matter what, she always tries to stay grounded, look at things objectively. But at the same time, she’s a reporter to the bone. She can’t stay away from a mystery. She has to know. She the definition of an assertive narrator—as opposed to a passive one, who only responds to situations and doesn’t take the lead. Kami’s all about taking the lead, taking control, making things happen. She’s very enjoyable to read. She has a lot of determination, a lot of spunk.

I didn’t like Jared quite as much. Compared to Kami, compared to Angela, to Holly, to Ash, Jared is a bit flat. He’s a thrill-seeker, to a certain extent (he likes to fight, he likes to make a scene, to ride his motorcycle dangerously fast). But he’s also obsessively in love with Kami, and wants to keep her safe and keep her out of danger. I feel like his love for Kami defines his character. And yes, yes, he has this horrible backstory: his mother hates him, his father beat him, he accidentally killed his father, blah blah blah.

But still. Who is he? He loves Kami. He likes his motorcycle. He’s a moody, delinquent, bad-boy. He wears a leather jacket and hates his cousin. He sees the world in black-and-white. He feels guilty when he gets pissed and someone gets hurt/something gets broken (hurt people’s feelings, damage physical property). But it just seems like without Kami, there isn’t much left to drive his character. What does he want? What does he care about, besides Kami? I don’t know. And I feel like I only care about him because Kami cares about him, and I care about her.

Another thing: I think there was supposed to be some sort of love triangle going on between Ash, Kami, and Jared. But I’m not totally sure if I, the reader, was supposed to be wondering if Kami would go for Ash over Jared or vice-versa. Because, frankly, I didn’t think Ash fit well with Kami.

I like Ash’s character (plot spill = his evil dad family-first/I-will-finally-be-proud-of-you-style guilts him into being a bad guy, but in the end he can’t go through with it). He’s complex and sympathetic, wavering along the line of morality. He’s kind of like Draco Malfoy, actually, but less of a douche bag. But I don’t think Kami would ever he happy with him. He’s not…enough. He’s not passionate enough, he’s not curious enough, he’s not enough.

So If I had any advice for revising this story, I’d probably tell the author to sort out Kami’s feelings about Ash. Does she like him, or does she like the idea of him (i.e.: someone nice who she’s not mentally linked with)?

And now for other characters. One is Angela. She is Kami’s best friend, and she kicks ass. She’s also a (spoiler) lesbian, and has a crush on Holly. Holly is another friend of Kami. She’s someone Kami wasn’t especially friendly with until recently, and after they started talking, Kami had this sort of realization that she’d been avoiding Holly’s attempts at friendship really for no reason, because Holly’s great. But Holly also…ahem…developed (aka got boobs and curves) earlier than the other girls in their small town.

Kami is already insecure about her appearance. For one thing, she’s part-Asian in an all-white town. For another, Angela is super-pretty. Like, Twilight vampire-level beautiful. So I think part of the reason Kami stays away from Holly is because Holly is a boy-magnet, and known for it (unlike Angela, who basically hates people). So she feels a jealous. But she gets over it. Probably because Holly is so wonderful (and bisexual, I think. I know that she likes Angela back, so she does like girls. It’s unclear on the boys. Personally I think she’s bisexual).

And then there is Rusty. Rusty is Angela’s brother. He’s kind of a side character. But he’s great. I would have liked to see more of him, actually. He’s a cross between friend and big brother to Kami—which is cool, because you don’t see boy-girl friendships very often.

Oh, and then there’s the Lynburns. Rob, husband of the sisters Lillian and Rosalind (and thus not actually born a Lynburn). Everyone thought he would marry Rosalind, but he ended up going for Lillian. So for, Rob doesn’t have a very deep character. He wants revenge for the previous Lynburns killing his parents (why? well, Rob’s oh-so-lovely mom and pop were killing townspeople in their basement for power) but that seems to be his only motivation at this point. Maybe he’s just a power-hungry murderer. Apple-doesn’t-fall-far-from-the-tree and all that.

Rosalind’s much the same. She was pissed and heartbroken when Rob picked Lillian over her. She dislikes her sister. Beneath it all, she actually does care whether Jared lives or dies. So there is depth, there, but I think it could have been done better.

Lillian, however, is another story. She’s arrogant. She sees the town as her kingdom, and herself as a queen—but not in a Louis the Sun King kind of way. She takes her family’s ancient role as protector of Sorry-in-the-Vale very seriously. She’s a very interesting character. An interesting blend of likable traits and unlikable traits.

As for the plot…I loved it. Murder and mystery and magic and action. The end left me wanting more and wasn’t a cliff-hanger. The ending was surprising, but believable. I guessed that Kami and Jared’s connection would have to be cut, but I didn’t see their conversation at the very end coming. I have the second book on hold at the library already.

On a final note, there are a few parts written from Jared’s point of view. While I wasn’t sure if they were necessary in this book or not, I feel like it’s setting something more necessary up for the second book. It didn’t bug me, but I think if the second book’s going to have a more even Kami-Jared distribution, Jared really does need to be a more complex, engaging character.

rating out of five stars

★★★★★

is it worth reading?

Without the tiniest ounce of hesitation.

want to read it for yourself?

Buy at Amazon Buy at Powell’s

#16 = Perfect Ruin by Lauren DeStefano

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PERFECT RUIN by Lauren DeStefano

jacket flap blurb

On Internment, you can be anything you dream—a novelist or a singer, a florist or a factory worker….Your life is yours to embrace or to squander. There’s only one rule: you don’t approach the edge. If you do, it’s already over.

thoughts

This book put me in such a bad mood. The writing style was so engaging, and there were so many great moments and details and talking about the sky and the edge and the festival…but I ended up disliking it. The protagonist is Blandy McBlandbland big time. She’s so incredibly Disney princess perfect, it drove me nuts.

I don’t want flawless honor and moral perfection, this utopia girl. I don’t want this girl that looks on her parent’s murderer and doesn’t want to cause him any pain, doesn’t want to see him pay. I don’t want this girl who doesn’t feel anger, who’s always kind and good and considerate.

I want a protagonist who’s real. I want a gritty girl, I want a flawed girl. I want a girl who chafes at the limitations of her world and herself. I want a girl who needs, who wants, who yearns. I want reality, in all the shades-of-gray and ruthless passion, that it is.

Morgan is not that girl. She is the faultless one, the fake one. The one who is endlessly forgiving when any rational person would be howling for blood. Her best friend, Pen, feels, breathes, lives. Morgan does not. Pen’s betrothed, Thomas, does not. Morgan’s betrothed, Basil, does not. So many characters are flat, existing to power on a plot that was lost long before their world fell apart.

And that brings me to the plot. It is forced. I read it and I see in my head the author, plodding along in their vision, forcing their characters to act in order to further that vision, and loosing sight of who they are what she has made them.

Internment is a floating island bordered by a globe-wall of wind. Get to close to the edge, and for no reason that is ever explained, you go just a little bit crazy. Oh, and you end up with some physical disability. Internment is presented as a utopia, or at least a near-utopia.

So what happens? A girl is murdered. A boy named Judas is blamed. Morgan’s dad is a patrolman (police officer). Morgan runs into Judas, who has escaped custody, and hides him. For no particular reason, she doesn’t think he murdered the girl, despite the fact that her dad is a police officer and you’d think she’d trust his judgement. She seems to trust her world, trust Internment. Believe in it. And yet she hides Judas.

As it turns out, Judas did not kill the girl. The king had her killed because she was speaking against the accepted religion, challenging the way things are in Internment, and planning to fly a “bird” (some sort of plane thing) to the highly-forbidden ground. We learn that the king has had many rebels killed in the past (something which caused Morgan’s father great angst, which he never acted on)—however, most of those were made to look like accidents.

We’re given a reason why the girl, Daphne, was made to be murder, but it doesn’t really make sense. Supposedly, it was to help quell any rebellious thoughts among the populace. Because making people realize the city they thought was safe and perfect actually has a murderer running around is the best way to get them in line.

Anyway, Morgan, her father, her older brother and her older brother’s wife, and her mother are all poisoned via medication that they’ve been taking. The brother, Lex, and his wife, Alice, escape death because they actually just pretend to take the medication. Morgan escapes death by apparently magical means. Her father and her mother—who is completely irrelevant to the story, anyway—are killed.

After this, Morgan, Lex, Alice, Basil, Judas, and a couple others hide out underground in the bird/plane. Lex, Alice, Judas, and the others because they were all rebels. Basil because he goes with Morgan. Then Morgan decides to sneak away during the night to see Pen and to murder the king (she is, as per usual, quite serene through this rash decision). She meets with Pen, and they are promptly captured by the prince and princess, who take them to the castle and lock them up without anyone else knowing (namely, the king). Their goal, find the bird/plane. It’s not clear why.

Morgan and Pen escape, and during the escape Pen thwacks the prince over the head with a brick. They run back to the safety of the bird/plane. Not long after, the bird/plane starts burrowing down, because the bird/plane is also part mole. The plan is to dig to the bottom of Internment and then just fly off to the ground. Only, they don’t have to dig the entire way, because of this wacky, unexplained vortex inside part of Internment called “the swallows.” It sucks them down, and then they’re spat out into the sky. How convenient. How inexplicable.

And then, mid-flight, guess who appears? Yes, the princess. She somehow stole aboard, with a hostage. And this hostage is (wait for it) Thomas, Pen’s betrothed. Aw. Morgan, ever the diplomat, convinces the princess to let Thomas go and give up her weapons (and not once during the conversation does she want to throttle the princess. Oh-so-virtuous Morgan does think of such things like violence, or anger).

The bizarre party manages to land their contraption and step out just in time to be surrounded by ground-dweller vehicles. End of book one.

Oh, and did I mention the author is clearly trying to set Judas, Morgan, and Basil up for a love-triangle? Kill me now. Or better yet, kill them.

All in all, a plot that acts like all the ridiculous elements (I’m looking at you, swallows, and you, wind-barrier) are actually totally plausible and realistic and this is just another alternate-reality/dystopia novel, and a main character less interesting that tepid oatmeal. Which especially sucked, because the premise is so fascinatingly wonderful and the writing so elegant and beautiful.

rating out of five stars

★☆☆☆☆

is it worth reading?

Only for the writing.

want to read it for yourself?

Buy at Amazon Buy at Powell’s