Publication Date: September 11, 2012
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 to 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?
***Initial review written in April 2012. A few changes were made for this posting.***
The first time I read Sarah Rees Brennan's Unspoken, I began it a little after I put the kids to bed. I thought I would get in a few chapters before turning in myself. Instead, I fell right into Sorry-in-the-Vale, only truly emerging as I blearily realized that, indeed, it was 4:00am and yes, in fact, that was the last page. No matter how many times I flicked the screen to the left, the page stayed stubbornly put. I had to wait for over a YEAR for the rest?!?! Deliciously frustrating, agonizingly wonderful torture. Sarah Rees Brennan, I love/hate/love you.
Since I had so kindly been provided my copy from the publisher, I sat down the next day to write a review (while ignoring the complaints of my disgruntled husband, who had been kept awake the night before by my constant laughing out loud.) Sadly, all I could really get out was something along the lines of:
You know, a very mature reviewer-like response. I decided the first reading was for me, and a second more thorough reading with notebook in hand was in order. I started earlier this time with every intention of reading it in segments taking careful notes along the way. I surfaced at midnight with a freshly sharpened pencil, a blank notebook page, a burning need for the next book, and even more intense fan-girl feelings. This was not good.
Sarah Rees Brennan has done something truly amazing with Unspoken -- it is like she carefully crafted one stereotype, cliche, or trope after another (for genres and people alike) and then systematically shattered them. Nothing is what it seems; it is all much more complex and beautiful than that. A wonderfully supportive and loving family that still has very real and hurtful flaws. Dependable, staunchly supportive best friends with deeply held secrets. I would love to catalogue them all, but what a way to spoil SRB's excellently crafted story. I love her characters; I love their relationships; I love how real they feel in their confidence and insecurity and bravery and fear.
However, one of the best parts of Unspoken is what SRB has done for the gothic genre. I adore reading, with an unapologetic obsession, all things Victoria Holt, Barbara Michaels, Madeleine Brent, and -- of course -- Mary Stewart. I have no fewer than two huge under-the-bed plastic tubs full of nothing but paperbacks of these four authors collected from thrift stores and yard sales over the years. With this unabashed love, however, must also come the honest admission that, whatever strengths each writer possesses, complexity and/or originality of plot is not one of them. Put plainly, the old gothic romances tend to suffer for being overly formulaic, and one only comes back because one likes the formula. (After my fourth Victoria Holt I would have been ashamed of myself if I hadn't guessed who was the bad guy and who was the true love by the third or fourth chapter.) SRB takes on the mantle of these wonderful storytellers before her, inserts the formulas into her book, and then bends or breaks them into something entirely new.* There is a comfortable, sleepy town with deep dark secrets lurking under the surface. And, yes, Kami is quick to stumble into trouble and overly curious, but she isn't nearly as helpless or clueless as her predecessors. Yes, she has two (or more) potential suitors, who are also both potential suspects, one dark and one light. However, she doesn't fall into insta-love with either, and remains stubbornly and wonderfully self sufficient around both. There is, of course, the usual cast of sternly disapproving member of the older generation, an affable, avuncular type relative, and a dreamy-eyed, child-like woman -- all of whom are also possible suspects. Yet SRB brings complexity and nuance to these characters that makes them into something entirely different from their tropes.
Another delightfully new talent SRB brings to the gothic genre is her humor. I don't know how she does it, but Unspoken maintains it gothic aesthetic while being truly laugh out loud funny. Laugh out loud over and over and OVER again funny (no matter how many times I've read it.**) Kami's friends are a wonderful break from the tradition of isolating the young heroine, and they are each unique takes of young adult stereotypes themselves.
I feel as if I could go on and on for ages about why Unspoken is a perfect book, despite its gut wrenching cliff-hanger ending. So I'll leave you with this: If you like gothic novels or romantic suspense -- read it. If you are ready for some paranormal YA that takes you by surprise -- read it. If you like...what am I saying? Just read it anyway. It's that good.
*And I love the shades of Mary Stewart's Touch Not the Cat that are present -- the twins, the name Ash, the boy in her head, but all made entirely new!
**I think it is around six times now. And I still try to flip to the next phantom page each time!! Untold cannot get here fast enough!***
****You can also get some wonderful prequel short stories about both Jared The Spring Before I Met You (The Lynburn Legacy 0.25) by Sarah Rees Brennan and Kami The Summer Before I Met You (The Lynburn Legacy 0.5) by Sarah Rees Brennan. They are both excellent looks at the main characters from an entirely outside perspective. And they manage to be awesome at adding to your understanding of the characters without being at all spoilery. Very cool.
Review also on Goodreads; review Copy Provided by Random House Books for Young Readers.