April 20, 2012

Book review: Unraveling by Elizabeth Norris

For Janelle Tenner's life to change, first she had to die. She's certain that's what happened to her after being hit by a speeding truck that appeared literally out of nowhere. And she's absolutely sure that Ben, a boy who's been around for most of her life but to whom she's never spoken, has everything to do with why she's still kicking it with the living. But something else is going on too. What's behind the mysterious deaths her FBI father is investigating, where the victims appear to suffer from radiation burns so severe that their skin is literally melting off their bodies? After snooping in her father's files, Janelle also discovers evidence of a mysterious countdown--but a countdown to what? And why is it starting to seem like Ben has something to do with all of it?

In a solid debut, author Norris presents a tense, compelling tale that is part X Files, part Roswell, part Heroes (tagline "Stop the countdown, save the world" sounds VERY familiar) and part every other teen novel where romance is mixed with something way not normal. The countdown heading of every very short chapter moves the story along at a breakneck pace but not at the cost of character depth or solid dialogue. Norris also doesn't flinch from sacrifice. There may have been a miracle involved in saving Janelle, but it doesn't mean she's spared from devastating loss. The ending while satisfying to the story at hand is also frustrating enough that fans of the book will clamor for a sequel.

The major complaint I had with the advanced reader's edition that will hopefully be resolved with the published version is the very liberal use of the f-word. While I don't have a problem with its use in an organic nature (teens in a given situation who would actually talk that way in real life), with Unraveling, it seemed more like an agenda on the part of the author. And it seriously diminishes the resonance of the one instance of the story where the f-word would hold power and poignancy. Again, I'm hoping further edits have resolved that problem. Other than that, Unraveling's 400+ pages riveted this reader until the very last one, and I look forward to what Norris writes next.

Check out the book trailer!

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