by Sarah Rees Brennan
Sarah Rees Brennan’s Unspoken is unequivocally one of the best young adult books I’ve ever read. I don’t even know where to begin. Is it enough to tell you to read it? Synopsis aside, this is as colourful, as unique, as moving and absorbing as a book can get. The plot involves a strange family, a old-town legend, murder, love and magic. Brennan envisions an original premise that holds your attention from the very first page. Her idea is fully developed, never giving too much while holding nothing back; the details rather come as they may. The pace is a leisure walk through Kami’s everyday life, with curious bursts of the real mystery surrounding the return of the infamous Lynburn family, feared and revered as local gods. It is arguably slow, but readers are not left impatient because Brennan never fails to deliver quality. The air in which Brennan has enveloped her tale is chilling. It is a gothic atmosphere: a mansion filled with embellishments of a single motif — a human hand and the profile of a woman drowning; and a forest with lakes and rivers called the Crying Pools and the Sorrier River. The setting is laid out perfectly — visually rich and stunningly visceral.
The writing is sensational. But let’s skip how well she is at building tension, or shaping characters so entire both in body and temperament, or crafting scenes within which your most intimate emotions are dragged right along with the characters’ distress. What I applaud her most for is the brilliant way she’s conceived and actualized the concept of a girl hearing a voice in her head, without slipping through all the potentially tricky, subtle holes of reason. Brennan balances between Kami and Jared the inevitable confusion and frustrations that come with being mentally and emotionally invaded and the the genuine love formed, reinforced, and reciprocated time and time again since the day they were born. These are fine, fine lines and Brennan pulls them off heroically.
The scheme of it could’ve been a grand failure. But Brennan is expert; she has thought this through and it shows. I knew every word and every confession that went through Kami’s head. Her situation is different but so intense and her inner battles so well-written that I I felt like I knew how it felt. But obviously, I don’t! I have no clue what that would feel like, to be able to read someone else’s mind and have them read mine; the bombardment and lack of privacy; the severe complications that could erupt from a single, careless thought slipping through one mind into the other. But she was so good she convinced me I did. The trick is that while it is imaginary, Kami’s situation is also inescapably bound with the conditions of the heart. Kami’s emotions are readily accessible, they are emotions we are familiar with. On top of that, the cerebral connection between Kami and Jared was executed flawlessly. It was like a dance, smooth and effortless — we don’t quite know but we understand. It had such a nature of its own that it felt like an intimate, long-ago sensation; like an old, forgotten skill remembered.
Now, this cast has got to be one of the most memorable group of characters I have ever come across in young adult literature. They are all strong, present, and original. They do not fall prey to cliches, stereotypes, or pigeonholes. From Kami, to the Lynburns, to the dead grandmother who makes not a single appearance in the story other than in Kami’s memories, they are each individually compelling. Angela, Holly and Ash, as the supporting characters, do more than support. They season the narrative with cool humour and badassery. Jared, as our male lead, is troubled. He is unstable, unpredictable, and you’re not quite sure whether to like him or not. But he is the hero, albeit somewhat a tragic, agitated one. His emotions are extreme and passionate, but he is also so desperate that you give him your sympathy, then eventually your heart. And before you know it, you love him as Kami does.
Kami is the heroine I have been searching for. I could list countless flattering adjectives to describe her but it wouldn’t do any good. So why not let Kami speak for herself…
“She didn’t want to be the girl who just believed in the guy she liked…She didn’t want her feelings to blind her. She did not know what her feelings were, or what his were, or how to separate the two. She did not want to drown in what was between them and lose control, or lose who she was.”
“She wasn’t long-legged in tight jeans like Holly and Angela, but she was wearing a white dress that tied low down in front, swung bell-like about her, and had a bright pattern of apricots. She hoped that she looked pretty.”
How dare you resist such a creature? Kami is a character we can have faith in. Often we doubt our protagonists, waiting for the moment they fall for the lie or surrender to the threat. But in Kami we trust: that she will always do what she feels is right. She is hilarious, introspective, unyielding and soft. Her resolve will not be wavered by anyone. Anyone.
The relationship between Kami and Jared is interesting in that it progresses in reverse to typical young adult romances. They begin bound to each other and through this, they form an unbreakable bond of affection and trust. But as their worlds collide, their path takes a turn you do not expect. Their feelings for each other are layered, cutting, and sincere. It is gut-wrenchingly sensitive and romantic. But also complicated. Their link does not instigate or fuel mindless lusting and turn them into a meaningless catastrophe. Brennan throws obstacles so that nothing comes easy. And it’s not. In fact, it is downright excruciating.
Are these words enough? Have I done my duty? All I will say is that Unspoken is a novel that will leave both your imagination and your feels satisfied. Dangerous chances are taken, real things could be lost. The stakes are high because Brennan risks the thing that matters most, your self.
Five shooting stars.
Rated 5 out of 5 stars
This review also appears on Goodreads. An advance copy was provided by the publisher.
Free Short Story!
We posted this on Facebook last week, but just a reminder that if you’d like a little taste of Kami and Jared’s world, don’t forget you can read the free short story “The Summer Before I Met You” online.