Unraveling: review

April 24, 2012 2012, 4.5 star books, elizabeth norris, sci fi or futuristic, Wendy 61


by Elizabeth Norris

The end of the world is coming! When a book begins with the heroine getting hit by a truck and killed in the first chapter, you know you’re in for a good time. 17-year-old Janelle Tenner somehow wakes up miraculously unhurt, however, and staring into the eyes of a boy she barely knows. In the 24 days that follow, she has to figure out what Ben has to do with her strange revival, as well as how her FBI agent father’s investigation into a series of unidentified burn victims might tie into her own story…and the fate of her entire world.

This sci-fi mystery took me by surprise, in a very good way. While I go into all YA novels with an open mind, particularly when the premise is as intriguing as this one, I admit to a certain degree of ennui after slogging through so many tedious paranormal romances that don’t add very much to the genre. Despite its somewhat ambiguous blurb, it’s nice to find that this is not PNR at all, although I think it will definitely still appeal to fans of that genre. While there discussions of quantum physics, viral engineering, and various other interesting theories, the book is written in a very accessible and entertaining way. The story does take some cues from X-Files, Fringe, Veronica Mars, and a host of other sources, but I don’t think anyone but the most hard-core fans of those shows will nitpick with the influences that are found here.

Things I really enjoyed:

Janelle’s leafing through her father’s case files: I’m the type to do this too, especially if I found reports of severe radiation poisoning that resulted in gelatinous, melty humans. Let me say that again: gelatinous melty humans.

Janelle’s dad: We really only get to know him much later in the book, but her relationship with him was plausibly complicated, with the confusing combination of anger and frustration and love and guilt and regret that starts to surface at that age.

A romance that eventually grew on me: I was relatively indifferent to Ben and Janelle as a couple at first, but I gradually warmed up to their relationship. The first cute moment came with grape soda, and then their attraction grew into a keen connection that I became invested in.

Realistic family drama and setting: Janelle’s father is a workaholic and her mother is bipolar and unreliable, so it’s up to her to parent herself and her younger brother. I thought the family dynamic was well done, and it added an interesting complexity and tension to Janelle’s situation. I also liked the way Janelle’s school life was a part of the book, because it’s such a big part of being a teenager and yet often gets ignored in YA.

Things that could have been smoothed out a bit more:

There’s a lot crammed into 450 pages: While I appreciate the fact that this isn’t not a sketchy wham-bam-thank-you-ma’am kind of book, some of the subplots did seem a bit superfluous. If the ex-boyfriend, subplot about rape, etc. were more compelling, perhaps I wouldn’t have felt that way, but as it is, I think the book easily could have rid itself of 100 pages without losing anything vital.

Fairly unremarkable secondary characters: Aside from Janelle and Ben, Janelle’s dad, and her ex-boyfriend Nick, most of the other characters blended together for me.

The structure: the choice to break up the story into segments corresponding with the mysterious countdown is a good one, but I’m not sure it was necessary to have so many short breakdowns, to the point that essentially each change in scene merits its own chapter. Because the story also flits back and forth as it fills us in on backstory, there were occasions when it also disrupted the flow of the story. We’re in the middle of a tense scene at the climax of the book, for example, when we suddenly step out of the action to a flashback of Halloween, which could have easily been included elsewhere.

A couple of overly dramatic gun-brandishing moments, one of which I suppose could be explained away as the character’s extreme agitation after finding out upsetting news, but it’s a little harder to look the other way when it’s being done by an FBI agent.

Writing technique occasionally trumping story: this goes back to the structure thing, although there are other moments when I felt a little jolted out of the engrossing plot because of a line that is included for irony or affect. For example, Ben’s unorthodox way of telling Janelle how he feels about her, “I fucking love you,” is strangely commandeered by someone else during an important scene towards the end of the book. In my opinion, the emotional punch of a poignant moment was interrupted and diminished because of that inclusion.

Despite these criticisms (and my dislike for the Heroes-like tagline), I very much enjoyed this book, which is the first one in a planned series. While I wasn’t really surprised by any of the twists and it wasn’t a story that moved me strongly enough to tears, I did find that the way the author explores the aftermath of grief and separation seemed very true to life, particularly in Janelle’s conflicting feelings and the heavy weight of her responsibilities. That strong opening scene is also bookended with a fantastic ending, one that leaves the door open for the story continue, but also feels emotionally satisfying—even if it is extremely wistful, bittersweet one.

Unraveling by Elizabeth Norris is a great blend of science fiction, mystery, and romance with solid writing and a memorable story, and this debut author is definitely one to watch.

Rated 4.5 out of 5 stars

This review also appears on GoodReads. An advance copy was provided by the publisher.

61 Responses to “Unraveling: review”

  1. Gaby

    I desperately want to read this book and all its awesomeness. Sounds amazing! Great review!

  2. sarabara081

    I really need to pick up a copy of this one! I love the premise and even the sci-fi worked into it. So happy to hear that there is a great family dynamic because I love that in books. Sometimes it can be my favorite parts. Thanks for the great review! :)

  3. Missie, The Unread Reader

    Hmm…I’ve seen so many reviews for this one, and I’m still dying to get my hands on it, but I think yours is the first I’ve seen that mentions the lacking secondary character. Maybe because they really are that unremarkable. LOL

    I’ll proceed with caution, but I’m looking forward to that grape soda bit!

  4. Heather@The Flyleaf Review

    Awesome review and analysis Wendy! I really loved this book, it surprised me from beginning to end. I agree with you about a LOT of info being crammed into one book, and I felt the same about some of the secondary characters and subplots. But in the end, I also felt their inclusion, while maybe not vital, helped give teeth to Janelle’s character and flesh her character out even more. I am so impressed with this debut and can’t wait to see what Norris has in store for us in the future:)

  5. FABR Steph

    Unraveling is another book that I removed from my TBR because of time constraints, but I may seriously have to reconsider. Thanks for your wonderful review, Wendy.

  6. Andrea @The Bookish Babes

    I am finding that I like a great mystery/SciFi element more than romance. Who knew?! I think, despite the few flaws, I would really enjoy Unraveling. Great review, Wendy!

  7. Sarahbotbonkers

    I want this book now! Goodness, Wendy you made it sound so fabulous, I just have to have it. I wonder when it’s going to be out in our local bookstores. Great, great review, Wendy. As always. :)

  8. readingdate

    This one wasn’t really on my buy list but you’ve made me give Unraveling another look, Wendy! I like sci-fi mystery and it sounds like it’s worth a try. And I need to hear more about these gelatinous melty humans!

  9. Natalia Belikov @ Dazzling Reads

    Wendy!! OMG!! you have The Brides of Rollrock Island??? aaaaaah!! you lucky, lucky you!! I know you probably wont be able to upload your review unti near Septembe (release date) but PLEASE! let me know your thoughts as soon as you finish it!!! I’ll keep an stalking eye n your goodreads and your currently-reading stuff XDD I so wanted to buy the hardcover edition that came out on Feb, but is so expensive and Im kinda broken lol!

    Looking forward or your thoughts!! muah!! <3

  10. Beatriz Lins

    Wendy, you had me when you mentioned Fringe. If Unravelling deals with the same crazy theories that J.J. Abrams works with, I’M IN *-*
    Seriously, though… Loved your review. I just bought my copy on Amazon, and can’t wait to dive in this story. And the fact that it has some romance in it is very appealing to me, too :D

  11. Jasprit

    Great analysis of the book Wendy! I agree with you on so many of your points; it tooke me ages to warm up to the romance, and then afterwards I felt that I still wasn’t fully satisfied may be because of the ending! I also loved Janelle’s dad and would have loved to have seen more of him! Hopefully a lot more issues will be resolved in the second book! A wonderful review Wendy! :)

    • Wendy Darling

      Oh good! I’ve seen so many swoons over the romance I thought it was just me, hah. I’m glad I wasn’t just crazy. I’m glad you enjoyed the book overall though, Jasprit. :) Definitely hope things will be wrapped up in just one more book versus two.

  12. Natalia Belikov @ Dazzling Reads

    My dear!
    I totally agree with the over-dramatic gun moment XD It actually made my eyes roll. lol
    I really like your review my dear! I love all the good points (that I totally agree with) and the weak point (that I totally agree with too) But regardless the things that can still be shaped, I really enjoyed the book as much as you. Im glad we both like it (and rated it exactly the same XD) If it wasnt for those little details that you mentioned, I would have gien this book a bright 5 stars ^.^ But seriously, for a debut author, it is a wonderful start! Im looking forward for the second book in the series :)

    Wonderful review my dear!

    Dazzling Reads

    • Wendy Darling

      I’m glad I wasn’t the only one who thought the gun-waving stuff was too much! But yay, I’m glad you liked it just as much as I did, Natalia. Great minds think alike and all that. :) I agree, it is a VERY solid debut, though, and I can’t wait to see where the story goes next.

  13. Sarah (saz101)

    Ummm, you know what? If the book is this good, I’m kind of stoked the world is ending. GO FOR IT. DO YOUR BEST >:D

    Uh, also… no WAY did you just say the book is akin to Fringe, X-FIles, AND Veronica Mars. You can’t do this to me when I can’t read it right NOW.

    Seriously, I’m kind of freaking out O____O

    Also… ‘gelatinous melty humans.’

    I’m speechless.

    Also (lastly, I promise) THANK YOU for mentioned the Heroes similarity! ‘Save the cheerleader, save the world.’

    AMAZING review, Wendy! Review writerer goddess lady, you are! ♥

    • Wendy Darling

      Hah hah, bring on the end of the world if it means the book is good, huh? I’m excited for you to read this, Sarah! Hurry up so I can vicariously relive the book through your review.

  14. Flannery (The Readventurer)

    I know we chatted about this earlier but just wanted to leave a comment. I’m still going to give this a try, even though the reviews are all over the place. I mean, a 4.5 from you is a pretty strong recommendation.

    The first sentence of your review reminded me of South Park–“If you hot dog when you’re supposed to pizza, you’re gonna have a bad time.” :) (only here it is a GOOD time)

    • Wendy Darling

      Well, the naysayers would probably just say I’m less discerning than they are. ;) But they would be WRONG!

      I predict 3.5 – 4 stars from you.

  15. Rachel

    Lovely review Wendy. I’m looking forward to this even more with that reference to Veronica Mars! Loved that series! I have this on it’s way to me in the mail as we speak, so yay! :)

  16. Reynje

    Great review Wendy. I’ve been curious about this one for a while.. I’ve gradually been getting into sci-fi and I this one sounds like fun!

    • Wendy Darling

      Based on a few books that I know you liked, Reynje, I *think* you’ll enjoy this one. :) I admire what the author took on with this story, even if it’s not entirely perfect. And it’s entertaining for sure!

  17. A Canadian Girl

    Wendy, I don’t think I’ve seen a bad review for this one yet so I’m very excited about getting my hands on a copy soon. It’s nice to get a break from reading paranormal stories isn’t it? I’m not a huge sci-fi fan but this one seems more sci-fi lite, which I like. You had me at “gelatinous melty humans” :)

    • Wendy Darling

      I’ve seen a couple of dismissive reviews, Z, but I’m glad that overall they’ve been very positive. :) This one is not “hard sci-fi,” but it has plenty of meat in it. I’m glad you’re going to check it out!

  18. Nicole

    Great review! I’ve been waiting for this for a while. It sounds absolutely fascinating and I do like a good mystery story. However, I don’t really like it when parents go MIA in stories without explanation so I do hope that part/the family dynamics were done well.

    Nicole @ Teenage Fiction

    • Wendy Darling

      I dislike Missing Parent Syndrome too, Nicole–but there are plausible explanations in this book, so hopefully it won’t be an issue for you when you get to it. :)

  19. Jenny

    So glad you enjoyed this one Wendy, I just loved it! It was one that took me by surprise as well, I honestly had no idea what to expect going in and it quickly had me procrastinating on work in favor of reading:) I’m really curious about the case that Janelle’s dad never solved, I can’t wait to see how that plays into things moving forward! Really enjoyed your thoughts:)

    • Wendy Darling

      Oh YES! I want to find out what her dad’s unsolved case was all about too, I forgot that detail. I hope it’s explained eventually, and not one of those things that we just never find out. I’m glad you liked this one too, Jenny!

  20. Leanne

    Brilliant review, Wendy. First Maja’s radiant five stars, and now your review got me hooked.

    I’m interested in reading about Janelle and Ben’s “moment” with grape soda…

    • Wendy Darling

      Ah, I hope you enjoy it, Leanne. It’s not quite the second coming for me, but I do think it’s a very entertaining novel and I admire what the author did with her story.

  21. ashelynn hetland

    I heart this review. I haven’t heard a whole lot about what is INSIDE the book, but just that it’s awesome. I love that you break down what you loved and what you didn’t like. great review, Wendy!

    p.s. my review of Purity went up yesterday. ;D

    • Wendy Darling

      Ah, I’m glad the review is helpful, Ashelynn! Someone left a remark on my GoodReads review saying, “wow, this is long!” and that’s all, and I wasn’t quite sure how to take that, hah.

      Thanks for the link to your Purity post, will definitely be back to check it out!

  22. Lexie

    Awesome review! I’m convinced. I’ve seen several glowing and several “ehhh” reviews, but with this, I’m now certain that I need a copy. While flat characters, unnecessary subplots and the like can be frustrating, it sounds like there’s enough awesome to make up for that and more. Will pick up a copy as soon as possible. :D

    • Wendy Darling

      Yeah, while I’m not quite in the rave rave rave camp on this one, but I don’t really understand the dismissive reviews either, Lexie. I think it’s solidly entertaining and fun book, with a lot of great points to set it above others in the market right now. Definitely worth a read, in my opinion. Can’t wait to see what you think of it!

  23. Nicola

    Awesome review, Wendy! A copy of this arrived in my door the other day so I should be getting to it soon! I’m really excited about it now :)

    • Wendy Darling

      Exciting! I read this almost as soon as it arrived too, Nicola, although I’m shamefully just getting around to posting the review, hah. Hope it’s just as fun for you as it was for me. :)

  24. Celine

    EEEEE Wendy! I’m so glad you enjoyed reading this! I was not yet convinced to read this but after reading your review, I need to get this book ASAP when it’s out!

    Awesome review, Wendy! ♥ So glad you enjoyed it!

    • Wendy Darling

      I’m glad I convinced you to take the plunge, Celine. :D It’s a fun book, and I hope you enjoy it when you get yourself a copy!

  25. Vegan YA Nerds

    Great review Wendy! I appreciated all the points you highlighted, both good and bad. I am expecting a copy of this soon and I was already excited to read it but I really am looking forward to this as it sounds a little more unique!

    • Wendy Darling

      Oh good, I can’t wait to see what you think of it, Mandee! Definitely a very different YA book than what we’re used to, in a very good way.

  26. Mimi Valentine

    LOVE. *stamp* LOVE. *stamp* LOVE. *stamp*

    Those were three stamps of love because I loved this book, I loved your review, and I loved the fact that you said “gelatinous melty humans” twice! LOL ;) The family & school parts were some of the things that made me fall for this book too (because they are ignored in YA a lot!) as well as the fact that it’s probably the coolest sci-fi book out there. But no way about Ben — I bleeping wanted him to marry me! x)

    Absolutely awesome yet critical and totally worthy review, Wendy! <3

    • Wendy Darling

      Ooo, I love when a Wendy review gets Mimi’s stamp of approval! And here I get THREE!

      I’ so happy you liked this too, Mimi. So you fell for Ben, huh? I think you’re going to have to fight a whole bunch of other girls for him. ;) I loved the grape soda bit, though, and that makeout scene towards the end (on top of the washing machine, no less!) was pretty swoon-worthy.

  27. Natalie (Mindful Musings)

    Unfortunately, it seems like secondary characters are frequently left out of the loop when it comes to development. Still, a 4.5 out of 5 is a pretty high rating. Glad to see it was mostly enjoyable!

    • Wendy Darling

      It’s funny, because I don’t think it takes much to make a secondary character memorable, you know? Not a lot of ink or focus, just some interesting quirks and details. I may be a little generous with that extra .5, Nat, but I wanted to give it a little bit of an extra bump because it did execute its ideas so well overall.

  28. Sam

    Wonderful review Wendy! I absolutely adored this book and wish there more young adult science fiction books like this. I completely agree about the family dynamic in this story. It was impressive how much depth everything had and I’m eager to see how things progress in the next book. The wait will be unbearable! :)

    • Wendy Darling

      I wish there were more YA sci-fi books like this too, Sam! At least we’re getting more in this genre. :) I’m so glad you enjoyed this too.

  29. Savannah Valdez

    Wendy I love this book too! I like the whole sci-fi trend going on. I have been getting into these kinds of books lately. I can’t wait to wee what happens next. Thanks for sharing!

    • Wendy Darling

      Yay! I’m glad we agree, Savannah. I love that we’re getting so many YA science fiction books, too. As good as some of the dystopians have been, I think the sci-fi trend is turning out more consistently entertaining stories. :)

  30. Betsy

    Can’t wait to read it! And I’m glad you stayed honest with your review. It sounds like a book I need to pick up though. I can’t wait!

  31. Aneeqah

    I really agree with everything that you’ve said here, and I also gave this a 4.5! I loved the sci-fi aspect of this book, I thought it was very original and unique. I haven’t read anything quite like Unraveling. Ben and Janelle both also grew on me, even though I wasn’t a fan of Ben at the beginning of the book. But I do agree about the side characters as well, none were too major [except for Alex]. Fabulous review! You covered everything that I thought about this book. =)

    -Aneeqah @ My Not So Real Life

    • Wendy Darling

      I agree, Aneeqah–I never disliked Ben, but I didn’t really see what the fuss was about. I don’t know that I really ever fell in love with the romance either, but by the end I at least cared what happened to it. :) Fingers crossed the next one is good, too!

  32. Julie@My5monkeys

    Great review and some of those are my thoughts too. I did enjoy the syfy and fringe aspect.

    Great honest Review. Glad you liked just as much as me. I loved the ending too

    • Wendy Darling

      That ending was pretty awesome, Julie. :) I expected it would happen, but I’m glad that it was still written in a way that was enjoyable despite that. I’m glad you liked this one, too!

  33. Rachel @ Unforgettable Books

    Wonderful Review, Wendy! I have been looking forward to this book ever since i read the synopsis in september so i can’t wait to read it sometime.
    I always prefer to read books with some semblance of school life too.

    • Wendy Darling

      Thanks Rachel! It’s just out in stores today, so hopefully you’ll be able to get your hands on a copy soon. Let me know what you think of it!