Brunch Book Club Review: Unspoken by Sarah Rees Brennan

unspokenKami Glass loves someone she’s never met . . . a boy she’s talked to in her head ever since she was born. She wasn’t silent about her imaginary friend during her childhood, and is thus a bit of an outsider in her sleepy English town of Sorry-in-the-Vale. Still, Kami hasn’t suffered too much from not fitting in.She has a best friend, runs the school newspaper, and is only occasionally caught talking to herself. Her life is in order, just the way she likes it, despite the voice in her head.

But all that changes when the Lynburns return.

The Lynburn family has owned the spectacular and sinister manor that overlooks Sorry-in-the-Vale for centuries. The mysterious twin sisters who abandoned their ancestral home a generation ago are back, along with their teenage sons, Jared and Ash, one of whom is eerily familiar to Kami. Kami is not one to shy away from the unknown—in fact, she’s determined to find answers for all the questions Sorry-in-the-Vale is suddenly posing. Who is responsible for the bloody deeds in the depths of the woods? What is her own mother hiding? And now that her imaginary friend has become a real boy, does she still love him? Does she hate him? Can she trust him?

There’s often a problem that lies in books that have a huge fandom. If you are one of the individuals who hasn’t read the books, then you feel immense pressure to get into them and to love them immediately. I definitely felt that pressure when I started this month’s brunch book club pick. A number of our friends are almost rabid in their devotion to this series, so I went in expecting great things. Did it deliver? In part, but I will say there are aspects of this book that just didn’t work for me.

Let me start by talking about Sarah Rees Brennan’s immense talent in wordplay. Her writing is consistently smart and witty and well-paced, and I found myself laughing at the commentary from various characters throughout the book. I loved that Kami was a POC character, and that while it was part of who she was, it wasn’t everything that she was. I think that her family is amazing, and almost wished that there were short stories out there just about the twins (honestly, there better be stories for them in the future…). Kami’s relationship with Angela and later with Holly is an authentic representation of female friendship, with a give and take and a willingness to accept each other, faults and all. None of the three expect the others to be anything other than who they are, and they support each other with their strengths and weaknesses. Angela’s reveal late in the book may be surprising to some, but it doesn’t change the inherent nature of who she is, or her value to others, and I think that writing a book in this way is a gift.

The deliciously Gothic setting of the book is also my catnip. Town haunted by a past that no one will discuss? Check. Creepy old house, left seemingly abandoned until the rightful owners show up on day? Check, Portents of evil everywhere? Check. Anguished hot guy, compelled by family history not to reveal too much? Check. It was such fun to see how the author mixed in all the classic Gothic tropes with a ‘Scooby gang’ investigative vibe from Kami and her team, and the first 2/3 of the story were a lovely mix of the Gothic and the detective genres. However, it’s just after this point that the book began to lose me.

Jared and Kami. Connected in their non-Vulcan mind meld since birth, always there for each other … and supposedly in love? Nope. Not into that. Aside from the boundary issues (each can hear exactly what the other is thinking? It’s like a mental assault every day!), I don’t buy that (a) they didn’t think that the other person existed and (b) that they were so drawn to each other out of love and/or affection. Their whole reason for being connected was through outside influences, and when that is factored in, then no emotion they could feel for each other could be considered valid. I don’t even buy the romance with Ash for similar reasons. I thought their intense dislike for each other was also unrealistic, and while I think Jared’s past makes for a great back story and motivation, I also don’t think it justifies turning on Kami so many times to be hurtful.

It’s the aspects of the soul-mate that throw me in books, and this one was big. One of my personal no-go’s in books is the “we’re meant to be together because …destiny”, and this felt too much like manufactured fate for me to accept that the connection was healthy or valid. If the book had remained a Gothic detective story, I would have been all over it. Having said that, the reveal of the ‘big bad’ was well handled, and the set up for future books is interesting. While I am not particularly interested in Kami and Jared and Ash, I would like to know more about the sorcerers and their burgeoning power, as well as the Lynburns and their legacy. I have book two, and I will likely read it but not for a while.

What about you? Did you love or loath Unspoken? Did you read it for Brunch Book Club this week? Leave your thoughts in the comments below.