Thursday, October 17, 2013

Review: Unspoken by Sarah Rees Brennan

Goodreads review, last updated April 04, 2012

Damn... I did not see that coming. No, not at all.

Kami Glass has lived in Sorry-in-the-Vale all her life. She's always been considered a bit of an outsider, due to her grandmother's foreign heritage and her own penchance to spend copious amounts of time with her imaginary friend. 

Only he is not so imaginary. When the Lynburns, a mysterious family that is more or less the lords of the Vale, return, one of the younger boys turns out not to be Jared - the boy Kami has talked to all her life, and who is, in fact, very taken with her. As the two of them uncover the secrets around the Lynburns and Sorry-in-the-Vale, they will have to figure a way to deal with this sudden change in their lives.

Okay, first of all, I read this book as an e-galley from the publishers. I don't know if that means that edits and copy-edits are done or not yet, but I'm pretty sure that the minor gripes I had with the writing would not be present in the finished version. 

I won't lie, I have a soft spot in my heart for SRB. Her characters always make me crack up, even if there is nothing to crack up about, and I love it how she takes the old cliches of the genre and turns them up on their heads. The bad boy who has a heart of gold is still a very bad boy. The inexplicable connection the two leads feel between each other has, in fact, an explenation, and it's not a pretty one. She also focuses a lot on the themes of family and friendship, rather than love. It's all very refreshing.

Kami in particular is a delightful heroine - proactive, funny and headstrong. She's not afraid to fight for her friends, and is fiercely protective of those she cares about, but she's also vulnerable and sweet and has her limits. I always like that about SRB's heroines, because they manage to stay true to themselves and they're adamant against accepting a relationship with anyone before they stand on equal ground.

That, however, leads me to a couple of minor gripes I have with the story. Pay attention, it's gripes , not problems. This is stuff about the book that wasn't problematic, per se, but made me really pause and reflect. 

Spoilers ahead!

First of all, by some weird accident, I've been noticing re-ocurring trends in the writing of authors I read, that is to say, similar elements in different books by the same authors. This won't be noticed by someone who hasn't read all the Demon's Lexicon books, but it's there. We have the family vs outsiders debate. We have a protagonist without a father, and who has a very strained relationship with his (possibly crazy), detached mother.

And then there is Jared and Kami's connection, which actually runs deeper than sharing a few thoughts. In "Demon's Covenant", Nick places a mark on Mae (on her request) which makes it possible for him to influence her emotions and thoughts. This puts their relationship out of balance and Mae refuses to even kiss Nick until she has found a way to tell her emotions from his. Kami and Jared have something very similar, though it has been going on for much longer.

That leads me to the next gripe I have. I said already that SRB turns tired old tropes on their heads and I wasn't kidding: Where a Bella-wannabe would have been thrilled to have 24/7 access to her boyfriend's head (and him to hers), Kami doesn't. She wants to set some boundaries, and make sure that Jared loves her for herself, and not this one special thing they have between each other. He doesn't.

For me to explain this properly, I need to make something clear about Jared: He's an extremely lonely and troubled boy . He faces a lot of change and uncertainty in is life and lacks the proper perspective or guidance to deal with them in a calm, rational manner. He is fiercely protective of Kami - she's the only person who understands him completely and trusts him beyond all doubt, something even his mother hasn't done. It's natural for him to want to protect their connection...

...but that only gives Kami more reasons to do it. Because here's the thing, while she respects the boundaries he sets for himself, he is constantly pushing at hers. His reaction, when getting over the initial shock that his imaginary friend is real, is to suggest they date because their connection is some karmatic indication that they are meant to be together. He puts Kami on a pedestal, but she just wants a relationship on equal terms. If she accepted to go along with what he wanted, their relationship would have turned very toxic, very soon.

The fact that Kami goes along with the severing of their link is great. But it doesn't make Jared's reaction to it any less frustrating. The fact is, him throwing hissy fits whenever Kami tried to have a mature conversation made me lose a lot of respect for this guy. But I'm being pessimistic here: I have hopes that he will redeem himself in Unbound.

Note: A copy of this book was provided by the publishers via NetGalley for the purposes of this review.

Note 2: Image via Goodreads.

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