By Elizabeth Norris
April 24, 2012
Balzer + Bray
Reviewed: ARC from Publisher
Rarely can I say that I have had the opportunity to read a book that is the equivalent to some of the best, most twisted episodes of Fringe (or even Lost). But with UNRAVELING by Elizabeth Norris, I have had such an opportunity. Unraveling is a mind-bendingly intense, action-packed thrill ride. Whatever your expectations are upon opening its pages, you may as well throw them out the window. Expect the unexpected. The story is sure to keep you guessing until its explosive climax.
When I equate the plot of Unraveling to the best episodes of Fringe or Lost, I mean just that. Without spilling any of the beans, whatever emotions you may have had while watching episodes of the aforementioned shows, you will likely feel the same while reading this book. It starts off as relatively standard YA fare, but once the action starts (mere pages into the story) there are only occasional moments of familiarity. At it’s core, Unraveling is a story about the “end of the world as we know it”, but in addition it is a science fiction thriller, a suspenseful mystery, a tragedy and a love story. Yup, all this within a few hundred pages. All in all, Unraveling is is a very successful mishmash of genres.
Janelle is at once a character that I enjoyed. But she is also a girl that comes with a bit of baggage: She is the daughter of an FBI agent. She wants to be a typical teenager, as any teenager would want, but she has family issues as well as some secrets from her past that keep her from being “typical”. As things happen around and to her within the story, she keeps herself together fairly well. She reacts in ways that are both realistic and reflective of her intelligence. I absolutely love the head that this girl has on her shoulders.
I also enjoyed Ben as a character, and really wish that I could have seen more of him within these pages. (Yes, I occasionally even said out loud, “More Ben!”) The banter that he and Janelle share is oftentimes hilarious. I may feel that their relationship involved a bit too much “insta-love”, but the way it evolved overall was endearing and handled nicely. But let it be known that I am Ben’s #1 fan.
Other characters involved were also given outstanding development and moments to shine: Alex, Janelle’s father, her brother, Ben’s friends… even other, more minor characters. Ms. Norris knows how to bring her characters to life and give them each unique personalities. At times, I even cried for her characters, I became that invested in them.
Modern day San Diego, California is the primary setting in Unraveling. Yes, MODERN DAY. No technological advances. No crazy gadgets. No hover cars. Nada. Heck, much of the story takes place within Janelle’s house and at her school… So how does this story also manage to be a successful sci-fi? Well, to say more would be to say too much…
As I said before, the story starts off as standard YA fare, but only for a handful of pages. Then, when the real plot of the story kicks in, it almost feels like a frantic race to the finish. This is mostly in part to the “countdown” nature of the chapter breaks and varying lengths of each chapter. Elizabeth Norris manages to breakdown the action into segments, all the while counting down to the climatic moment that you eagerly await with both anticipation and dread. Thank goodness there is the occasional “downtime” where you are allowed to enjoy some fairly normal but oftentimes entertaining interactions between the characters. It’s during these brief moments that you are able to pause and take in the more convoluted events that recently occurred. Does that makes the pacing a bit choppy? Perhaps, but there is rarely a moment when the overall story is not moving forward.
First, I have to say that this book has a fair amount of foul language in it. One of the characters, in particular, needs his mouth cleaned out with a bar of soap nearly every time he opens it. Because of this I took off a couple Style points, considering this story is rated 13 and up and I would never want my 13 year old speaking in such a way. There is also under-age drinking, lots of talk about “stoners” and doing drugs, as well as some plot-related references to sex. All that is fine (these are rowdy teenagers we’re talking about) but consider this fair warning to parents of younger teens.
In the end, Unraveling managed to both shock and awe, what with its unforgiving and graphic nature as well as with the startling events that occur as the story progresses. Just when I thought I had the plot all figured out, the story threw another curve ball in my direction and took me for a loop. I cannot wait until the rest of the world has an opportunity to read the book, so I can discuss it more with you. I also look forward to whatever is to come in future installments, because there is going to be more… right, Liz?