Paranormal Young Adult
Balzer + Bray
Received from publisher for review
THE STORY (from Goodreads)Two days before the start of her junior year, seventeen-year-old Janelle Tenner is hit by a pickup truck and killed—as in blinding light, scenes of her life flashing before her, and then nothing. Except the next thing she knows, she's opening her eyes to find Ben Michaels, a loner from her high school whom Janelle has never talked to, leaning over her. And even though it isn't possible, she knows—with every fiber of her being—that Ben has somehow brought her back to life.
But her revival, and Ben's possible role in it, is only the first of the puzzles that Janelle must solve. While snooping in her FBI agent father's files for clues about her accident, she uncovers a clock that seems to be counting down to something—but to what? And when someone close to Janelle is killed, she can no longer deny what's right in front of her: Everything that's happened—the accident, the murder, the countdown clock, Ben's sudden appearance in her life—points to the end of life as she knows it. And as the clock ticks down, she realizes that if she wants to put a stop to the end of the world, she's going to need to uncover Ben's secrets—and keep from falling in love with him in the process.
MY THOUGHTSUnraveling is a gloriously unexpected read, one where the synopsis is specific enough to pique our curiosity and inspire us to break the spine, but at the same time vague enough to have us flipping that first page with a fair amount of trepidation given we’re not exactly sure what type of paranormal or inhuman element we might be dealing with. That initial hesitancy fades away quickly as we’re immediately introduced to a female protagonist who embodies many of the characteristics we as readers love best—strength and intelligence paired with a quick wit and down-to-earth personality–and very few of the ones that have us curling our fingers into fists out of sheer frustration. Our introduction to her is the beginning of a marathon that feels much more like a sprint, Janelle’s already complicated and difficult life becoming even more so when the weight of the world is literally placed on her shoulders and the unstoppable ticking of a clock haunts her every waking moment.
Janelle is one of those rare characters who seems utterly perfect from the minute we meet her. Not so much in the sense that she’s physically flawless or a paragon of everything good and wholesome and pure, but in the sense that we feel no desire to change anything about her and can simply appreciate her faults because they’re part of a whole we can’t imagine being any other way. She absolutely makes mistakes, but she often knows she’s making them and admits them to herself before we even have the chance to open our mouths and tell her to change her course, and even though we may disagree with her on occasion, we can’t help but recognize that without the gift of outside perspective we might make the exact same choices.
Many times with young adult novels, the romantic element seems to be tossed into the overall story arc more because it’s almost a criteria that one be in place for the book to be appealing to the target market, and thus many romances come across as rather superfluous rather than intrinsic. With Unraveling however, Ms. Norris does a truly impressive job of crafting a complex plot with an otherworldly mystery that is only enhanced by the presence of a romantic relationship rather than encumbered by it. We get the distinct pleasure very early on in the story of not only seeing how Ben feels about Janelle but actually experiencing his emotions briefly as she glimpses herself through his eyes, and from that moment on we get the deliciously slow building of a relationship that was previously non-existent and completely unacknowledged become something beautifully important. There’s a special headiness to their connection, one stemming from the collision of new and old feelings as Janelle begins to truly comprehend the extent of Ben’s feelings, and nothing is more satisfying than watching what Ben never thought possible come to life.
The story itself is a perfect combination of simple and complex, giving us just enough scientific information to create genuine plausibility, but not throwing so many technical terms and complicated theories at us that we get ejected from the story due to incomprehension. Those who enjoy stories like those presented in Fringe will revel in this tale, enjoying the juxtaposition of reality and science fiction while remaining completely grounded in heartfelt human emotion.