Thursday, July 26, 2012

Review: "Unraveling" by Elizabeth Norris

Title: Unraveling
Author: Elizabeth Norris
Publisher: Balzer + Bray, 2012

Janelle knows she died that day the truck hit her. All she remembers is seeing it hurtling toward her, then darkness. Then excruciating pain—and her classmate, Ben Michaels, standing over her. She knows she died, but she knows Ben brought her back.

This is freaky in and of itself, but things are starting to get even stranger in Janelle's life. Her father, an FBI agent, is investigating cases where unidentified bodies are showing up, with the cause of death being extreme radiation burns. They can't figure out where the bodies are coming from, or what caused the burns. In addition to all this, they've found a device with a countdown, though they aren't sure what the device does (is it a bomb? something worse?) and are unable to deactivate it. Janelle and her best friend Alex start their own investigation, eventually joined by Ben and his friends, but they may have gotten in over their heads—the fate of their world might be at stake.

Unraveling is a page-turner, for sure. It is a mystery, an apocalypse story, a love story, an action story all rolled into one. Janelle is an interesting character, and I enjoyed being in her head. She swears a lot, which I found pretty typical for a teenager, and she has a no-nonsense attitude that I liked.

As far as plot goes, when one of the big reveals happened (those who've read the book know which one I'm talking about), I did an eye-roll and thought, Really? But once the initial inner groaning stopped, I got back into the story. I really wanted to know why these strange and supposedly unexplained things were happening. I also loved that Norris made Janelle, her younger brother Jared, and her dad huge X-Files fans, which probably got me more excited about the unexplained stuff. Not that I was ever a huge X-Files fan, but it lent a nice flavor and atmosphere that would have been missing otherwise.

I read Anna's review for this on her blog while I was reading the book, and one thing I couldn't agree more with: I had a hard time believing Janelle's dad would leave his FBI files out everywhere for Janelle to find. It should not be that easy to hack into the federal government's system, even if it is your dad. Or, you know, go into his office and just grab papers and read them. Not likely. I almost wish Janelle had been older and an FBI agent herself; I think it would have been more believable.

Lovers of romance will be happy, too, since Ben turns out to be a romantic interest for Janelle, though *gasp* it's a forbidden romance! To me, this wasn't a huge plot point in the novel since I wasn't that interested in their quickly developed relationship/didn't really care if they ended up together, but I know I'm speaking only for myself. The more important aspect for me was the adventure and mystery of it all.

A couple more things that annoy me. 1) The cover. Janelle is described as olive-skinned, and to me the girl on the cover seems a bit whitewashed for my tastes. Also, I usually hate covers with models. 2) There were some characters that I found to be unnecessarily added in. Not a whole lot of development, not a whole lot of purpose, but in there enough for me to wonder why they were important. There were also a few subplots that didn't really turn into anything and I couldn't help but wonder why they were even included at all, since they were distracting from the real story.

Despite a few weak plot points and issues with suspension of disbelief, Unraveling was enjoyable. Not the greatest sci-fi book I've read in the past year, but fun. If you like high stakes, sci-fi, X-Files-y stuff, and a bit of edginess, this might be worth a read for you. Just beware: it's a bit think, weighing in at 464 pages.

Disclosure: I got this book from the library.

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