Wednesday, September 26, 2012

YAck Attack: Unspoken by Sarah Rees Brennan


by Sarah Rees Brennan

Published:  September 11th, 2012
Publisher: Random House Books for Young Readers

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Kami 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?
September's discussion is all about Unspoken, a YA Gothic by Sarah Rees Brennan. Janice is Keeper of the Book this time. Unsurprisingly (we are varied in our tastes!), there was a mix of reactions to this one. Read on to find out who loved or liked it, who liked the second half better than the first, and who had to DNF.

Melissa: Since Sya has the book, I think we can safely begin YAcking.... Besides, I devoured it yesterday and want to dish. What did y'all think? I adored it. Funny, smart, creepy, and I loved Kami, Angela, and Holly. Jared wasn't too bad, either, though I never quite got that he was supposed to be "blonde". He kinda always looked like Matt Dillon in the Outsiders in my brain. Yes, I am turning 40 on Monday... :-D

Angie: "Dally was so real he scared me."

Janice: Jared was supposed to be like Ash but in an evil twin way - darker everything. I guess that's why he's still blond, but a dark blond.

Janice: Speaking of appearances.. I was keeping an eye on Kami's because she's part Asian (one quarter). I was pleased about this (someone who looks more like me in a book, my stars!). I liked that there was a mix in her family (Ten looks more like their mom, Kami and Tomo like their dad).

Melissa:  Agreed, Janice. it's always nice to have a non-white (or at least partially non-white) protagonist, especially in a fantasy book.

Melissa: So, another question: what did you think of the Kami-Jared relationship? Friendship, love, or just creepy to have the guy in your head be finally real?

Janice: The relationship was one of my favorite parts because: someone in your head, you think the relationship would be easy, but NO, it's still complicated! Kami and Jared manage to hide things from each other, especially when it came to their own relationship. They both have such insecurities. It made me want to smack their heads together, I fully admit that, but this story wouldn't be half as interesting if Kami and Jared got each other right away.

Melissa: Agreed! The book was SO much better than it would have been if it was insta-love.

Janice: Also what I liked is how it showed that people can be very different in their internal, in-their-own-head lives than they appear to be on the outside. This felt especially true of Jared's character who seems to be a total buttface when Kami first meets him and completely not what you'd expect from their private conversations.

Holly: Happy Birthday, Melissa! Re: the relationship, the nuanced, realistic treatment of Jared and Kami's connection made this book from me. The humor helps, too. I find it interesting that both Kami and Mel, the protagonist in SRB's Team Human, are both part-Asian. Btw, SRB linked to my review of Unspoken recently on her blog. *does happy dance*. The cliffhanger ending was absolutely killer, though. If I have any criticism of the book, that would be it, just for the pure torture factor.

Sya: Also, Happy Birthday to Melissa! May your day be awesomely full of fabulousness. I'm now half way through the book (got a bit distracted by catching up on Downton Abbey over the weekend). I'm enjoying it BUT... have any of you read Sarah Rees Brennan's blog? Go and have a look. Now, don't you think ALL the characters sound awfully like her? I don't have a huge issue with this - I like her humour - but it does mean that the main group of characters are pretty much indistinguishable in terms of linguistic style. It's a shame, as it makes it harder to get to their core characters. Thus far, for me, the only thing that really stands out in terms of characterisation is Kami and Jared's inner link, which is less full on in terms of the snark and quirky sentence structure. This is not to say I think that the book is at all awful, just that I think the dialogue of the individual characters needs to be more, well, individual.

Holly: Ahh, Downton Abbey?! Don't remind me. :/ *turns green with envy*

Sya: Just finished. That ending! I am very heartbroken right now. Bad Jared. Seriously, I'm traumatised. Someone recommend a happy book RIGHT NOW.

Melissa: That ending is a bit of a heartbreaker, isn't it? Though I don't think I was terribly traumatized... I am curious to see what direction Brennan takes it. Your point about voice, Sya, is an interesting one as well. Did you read her Demon books? I'm trying to remember if they all kind of sounded the same in that one as well. I didn't mind it, mostly because I really enjoyed what everyone was saying (as well as what was happening), but now that you've pointed it out, I can totally see it.

Janice: I'm not sure I agree about the dialogue being similar because I did feel like each character had distinct personalities in my mind, but the humor in the book was pretty consistent so maybe that's it? I don't follow the author's blog and I haven't read other books by her so maybe this means I haven't been exposed enough to hone in on the sameness. I think I should look through it again and see if I can see it the second time around. I really liked the humor though. (and Happy belated Birthday to Melissa!!!)

Angie: I think Janice's point about Sarah's brand of humor is a good one and could explain some of what you felt, Sya. I follow her blog and have read (and LOVED in a sort of slobbery puppy dog way) the Demon's Lexicon trilogy, and I feel like she has a very unique sense of humor that decidedly comes across in her characters' voices. But they as characters still feel distinct to me. In fact, I've always sort of noted it as a hallmark of her writing. The way that Jamie speaks vs. the way Nick does, the way Mae thinks and talks vs. Sin's diction and voice are quite different. Same goes (for me) for Kami and Holly, Jared and Ash. And when I remember (and snort with laughter) over favorite lines of dialogue, I'm usually hearing it in the voice my mind has assigned that character. Um. I'm not the only one who does that, am I?

Melissa: No, Angie, You're not. :-)

Sya: I've read her first three books and really, really loved them. I felt that her character voices were distinct and that her trademark humour never at any point distracted from the darker side of her story. When I wrote the above comment I was only half way through Unspoken and I have to say that I found the indistinct voices far less of a problem in the second half. She seemed, to me, to click with her characters at that point and both they and the story crystalised. I was entirely fascinated by the idea of Kami and Jared's link and thought it was massively refreshing to have them actually struggle with the reality of it rather than fall into each other's arms. Visually, I thought the description of Aurimere was amazing. The idea of the drowing woman motif and all the hands everywhere was pretty awesome and incredibly creepy.

Laura: I am only half way through with the book. So I shall NOT READ YOUR COMMENTS, but will come back in a day or two and say something snarky RIGHT HERE IN THIS SPACE.

Janice: OK, I was going to say a couple more things about stuff that happens more towards the end (agreeing with Sya and Melissa's sentiments but also have another comment or two), but I will refrain till Laura has a chance to catch up.

Holly: *nodding* (to Angie and Janice) Kami, Holly, and Jared all felt distinct and memorable to me from the beginning. I'm glad that they crystallized for you, Sya. Ooh, I shudder just thinking about the hand motif in the hardware and decor at Aurimere. It's a great visual.

Laura: Janice, oh please don't wait on me. I'm about bored stupid with this book.

Janice: You should tell us about that Laura -- cause so far we have mostly positive responses! *nudge*.

Janice: Anyway, the things I was going to say were: so that ending - ***AND HERE BE SPOILERS, LOOK AWAY IF YOU DON'T WANT TO BE SPOILED*** I loved it for being so wrenching. Ha. OK it did feel surprising that Jared could go from screaming one thing in Kami's mind to saying another and giving her the cold shoulder the next, but I love the tension we're going to go into the next book with. I hope it lasts. Hohohoho. The other thing I wanted to say was one thing that I am not sure how to feel about which is Angela being so prickly throughout the book and then it being revealed she likes girls. On one hand: good to have different characters, show the complications of friendship, and her internal struggle is reflected by her prickliness, but on the other, does it suggest a stereotype? I feel ill-equiped to judge that, but wondered if anyone else had an opinion.

Melissa: Huh, Janice, about point 2: I don't know if it's a stereotype, but it made sense to me (because I buy into stereotypes??). At any rate, Angela was one of my favorite characters: I adored the fact that all she wanted to do was sleep. My kind of girl.

And Laura: BOO. You are not allowed not to like Sarah Rees Brennan.

Melissa: Unless you have a very good reason, of course.

Laura: Ok so I'm 2/3 of the way through the book and I AM BORED STUPID. Nothing has happened. I don't care how many times Kami WALKS somewhere. STOP FUCKING WALKING. SIT DOWN OR RIDE A BIKE. I DO NOT CARE THAT YOU WALK A LOT. The abrupt back and forth like/dislike "STAY ALIVE! I WILL FIND YOU!" resentment-for-our-connection-but-I-can't-live-without-you shit makes me want to throw things at the both of them. How about people are being pushed down wells and knives are being drawn on people and WHERE THE FUCK-ALL ARE THE POLICE AND THE PARENTS? It was sweet that they got a WHOLE DAY OFF OF SCHOOL when that girl was SLICED UP ON THE PLAY GROUND. The writing is cute and quirky once you get around the VERY ABRUPT scene and mode changes and the two page chapters. Kami is funny and I could possibly like her if she wasn't so STUPID. "Sure I'll keep on taking pleasant little strolls through the woods even though someone wants me dead and there's some psycho devil worshiper carving up fluffy critters and evil magic (which suddenly exists) is all around me!" But my main complaint...THE BIG ONE: NOT A DAMN THING HAS HAPPENED.

Laura: I hereby quit this book.

Laura:  It has made me angry.

Laura: And Ash is kind of a chickenwuss.

Laura:  But I love Angela....with all of my heart.

Laura: THE END.

Laura: And now I shall read your comments.

Laura: I started reading Demon's Lexicon after meeting Sarah at a book signing. She's hilarious, quirky and a little over the top (in a good way). I can totally understand the view that her characters tend to reflect her personality because Kami's sense of humor would be very much in keeping with Sarah's (I think). But likable as both she and Kami might possibly be, it is her storytelling that turned me off back then and it did the same with this book. Show don't tell. Do something. I'm totally impressed with your witty dialogue, really, but if I wanted funny word play with agonizingly slow plot and little substance, I'd watch more sitcom television. Perhaps it's my ADD, or the fact that paranormal YA all feels the same to me these days, but I don't think Sarah and I will be spending anymore time together in the future because she just can't hold my attention.

Sya: I agree with Laura that enjoyable as all the quirk is, it masks flawed storytelling. The first half of the book lacks pace and plot, although it does improve later.

Janice: I would say that what happens in the beginning are more internal than external -- it's not very action-y, but there is a build-up. There's the mysteries that Kami begins with: what's the deal with her town and the Lynburns? Why can Kami hear some guy in her head -- is he real and when is she going to meet him? WTF are those screams at night and who is causing them? And then we have Kami's life introduced and her sort of nosy willfulness is explained (which later makes her barging into the woods alone-- but in her head, not really alone-- make sense). I think things do happen but they're ramp-ups or opening acts instead of Big Numbers? I wouldn't say nothing happens... maybe nothing happens to Kami herself (yet) -- she's kind of observing all this weirdness but is not directly affected (yet).

Janice: Melissa - Yeah, it made me pause that Angela's prickliness is close to like this angry girl stereotype, but this is portrayed as something that makes Angela cool and awesome. I also felt like the reaction of Kami, Angela's brother, and Holly were all positive and overall you could see how Angela struggled internally with people's reactions. The story was sympathetic towards her basically. Anyway, it was a thought I mulled over anyway and thought I would throw it out there.

Melissa: 1) I always thought I was a plot-driven person, but Laura has made me see the error of my ways: I'm a character driven person. Give me a character I can adore (Kami and Angela, in this case) and I'm yours forever. (I adored Nick, Mae, Sin and Alan) 2) I think what I thought was suspense building (soo many secrets hinted at, and no clue as to WTH is going on), Laura saw as nothing happening, yes? Either way, it drove us batty. (Just Laura more so. No surprise. :-D) To each their own, no?

Sya: I think that plot and character need to be balanced for me to enjoy a book. I also adored Nick et al, but I think I adored them more because they were characters in a strong story. I could agree with the idea that the first part of the book was suspense building (particularly due to the gothic novel structure) but the suspense was lost in all the witty banter going on. However, I did really like the second half of the book - although had I not enjoyed the author's previous work I can't guarantee I'd have actually made it that far.

Angie: Having read a lot of Gothic novels and watched many a gumshoe detective show/film, I think Unspoken was meant to be a playful and heartfelt homage to those genres. My mind dashed over a dozen particular ones while reading it that I felt it was giving a nod to, if you will. And as such, I think it was meant to be a bit tongue in cheek. Not to the degree of the Team Human parody, but I do think we are meant to know to a degree when the grins and shivers are coming. That said, if you're not into that kind of thing I can see how it would come off less brilliantly. And while I wouldn't say the world itself was as gripping, per se, as the one in her Demon's Lexicon books, I still felt at home there. It felt a fully fleshed out place and the plot and pace just as creeping, at times meandering and off kilter, as those of its predecessors.

Nicole: I'm really sad I didn't get to read this, because I really want to. #soon


And there you have it. Those YAckers who liked it seemed to like it quite a lot, those YAckers who did not had serious issues with pacing and plot development. Here is what the spread looks like, in the end:

The Spread1:
Thumbs up
In between
Thumbs down

YAckers Unspoken reviews:
Holly's review at Book Harbinger
Sya's review at The Mountains of Instead
Melissa's review at Book Nut

1 We strongly condemn those who just skip to the rating to an end of fiery torment


  1. Wow, you guys have great rapport in your dialogue. So funny. Have you thought about doing a podcast? I definitely want to read this book soon.

    1. We hadn't talked about podcasting, but that's such a nice compliment, thank you. :)

  2. I loved reading this, ladies! I absolutely loved Unspoken, but I can completely see the plot/pacing issues that a lot of people have had with it. For me, if the characters are strong enough, I can completely forgive (and sometimes not even notice) the lack of plot. I just loved the completely messed up relationship dynamics between Kami and Jared. Like, I don't know that I even want them to end up together because I felt like they were so incredibly unhealthy (but fascinating). I really wasn't surprised by Jared being a COMPLETE DICKHEAD in the end because he was always so manic and doubtful of Kami's feelings for him throughout, so I feel like he really went into defense mode when he felt completely rejected. I want him to grow up and heal enough to realize that Kami can't solve all of his problems, and I think maybe if he stops looking at her like a cure-all he can have a legit relationship. Also, I didn't feel like Angela was stereotyped because I felt like Rusty had some very similar qualities. Maybe they were both the poor neglected rich kids, but the fact that there was so much in common made me feel like her prickliness was just her (I loved them both).

    Okay done with massive comment now. >.>

    1. Yay, massive comment!

      I didn't think about Rusty that way, but when I think about it, yup, I see what you're saying there. Good point, he is very closed off like Angela when he wants to be.

      I agree about Kami and Jared's relationship being pretty fascinating. I want them to end up together, but they both have to grow up a bit. I'd like them to be more honest with each other first of all!