Review: Unspoken by Sarah Rees Brennan

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September 21, 2012 by Heidi

Unspoken by Sarah Rees Brennan book coverTitle: Unspoken [Amazon|Goodreads]
Author: Sarah Rees Brennan [Website|Twitter|Facebook]
Standing: First book in The Lynburn Legacy.
Genre: Young Adult, Gothic, Paranormal
Published: September 11th, 2012 by Random House Books for Young Readers
Format: Hardcover; 370 pages
Source: ARC from publisher via NetGalley.

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?

Okay, so it’s been a few days and I think my rage face has worn off a bit and I can talk to you all about all of the things I absolutely loved about Sarah Rees Brennan’s Unspoken without being completely bias against the whole thing because of the ending*.  So, here it goes, review time!

Forest deep, silent bells
There’s a secret no one tells
Valley quiet, water still
Lynburns watching on the hill
Apples red, corn gold
Almost everyone grows old.

Intrepid young journalist Kami Glass knows there are secrets in her quiet small town of Sorry-in-the Vale, she knows the Lynburns are at the heart of it, and she knows no one wants to talk.  When the Lynburns return after a generation away, Kami sees her chance to get to the bottom of things.  If only having the Lynburns so near didn’t mean losing hold of her own secret and realizing that her imaginary friend wasn’t so imaginary after all.

I’ll be honest, it’s been a good long while since I read a strait up YA book that really grabbed me.  I’ve been sticking largely to adult or middle grade fiction lately, or YA that plays the crossover game as I was simply done with those aspects that much of YA had to offer.  And then, I picked up Unspoken.

  • Girl who never quite fit in with all the other kids. Check.
  • Mysterious new boy(s) in town who are interested in her. Check.
  • Love triangle of sorts. Check.
  • Angst. Check.
  • Series. Check.

That’s right, there’s this whole list of things that I hate about YA novels, and they’re in Unspoken, but I didn’t care.  The sheer awesomeness that was this story, the wonderful characters that defied YA stereotypes, the complete grip it held me in made Unspoken just the YA book to remind me that they’re not all the same.

In Unspoken, author Sarah Rees Brennan has achieved that rare balance between character and story, where all aspects are so well entwined that it becomes impossible to imagine one without the other.  I was enraptured by the story, and completely invested in the characters to the point that I could not sleep while reading this book because I could not stop thinking about it.  Days later, I still can’t stop thinking about it.

So let’s talk about the things that make Unspoken so unique and wonderful, despite that little bulleted list above.

  1. No absent parent syndrome.  Kami isn’t just a teen, she’s a daughter and a sister, and that is quite evident in the story.  Her relationships with both her parents, her two younger brothers, and her deceased grandmother help us to understand who she is as a person and to appreciate the disparity between the childhoods she and Jared have had.  Her family isn’t just mentioned at the beginning and then never heard from again, they’re there.  They worry about Kami, they care for Kami.  They like to know where she is and who she’s with, and they really don’t approve of her hanging out with “those Lynburn boys”.
  2. Her girlfriends don’t disappear when the boys show up.  Usually when we have these stories of the quirky girls that are always on the outside (in Kami’s case, everyone thinks she’s more than a bit nuts for those times when she’s lost in her head talking to her imaginary friend, Jared), they’re either devoid of friends, or what friends they had disappear from the text as soon as romantic possibilities come into play.  Kami actively works against this, in fact, she makes a new friend in Holly at the prompting of Jared, and is very grateful for it in the end.  I loved the female relationships in this book, not just because they were there, but because they exhibited good healthy girlfriends who were there for one another in good times and bad, didn’t judge (except when they were trying to be helpful), and listened when they needed to.
  3. Not only all of that, but Kami’s friends Holly and Angela are the two hottest chicks in school.  They’re those girls who we stereotype as ‘those popular bitches’ because all of the boys want them, and they know it, and yet Holly and Angela are completely sweet (okay Angela’s a bit grumpy, but as someone who also hates people and adores napping, I love her), genuine, and totally break that ‘mean girl’ mold.  Turns out it doesn’t matter if you drive a bike, wear sparkles and heels, cutesy dresses, or scowls–as long as you’re awesome, you’re a winning girl in my book.
  4. Unspoken features and embraces multiculturalism and looks at prejudice in unusual ways.  Kami is 1/4 Japanese, and her relationship with her Japanese grandmother was very important to her.  The prejudices we see in Sorry-in-the-Vale stem largely from a xenophobia of those who are considered “outsiders”, which is potentially anyone whose family hasn’t lived in the vale for hundreds of years.  Other specific brushes with differences and prejudice appear throughout the story, and I love that they were present and excellently handled.
  5. The love triangle in Unspoken isn’t really laid out as one would predict. In fact, it’s one I hesitate to call a love triangle at all as I’m not sure there’s any genuine romance anywhere in these pages (which I love). Kami and Jared’s relationship is one of the most complicated and unpredictable I have seen in YA, and I was completely fascinated by it.  It’s a relationship that’s more intimate than romance, and that makes it too much for love:

Saying he was part of her or that they were more than friends sounded like love, but it seemed like a loss as well.  All the words she knew to describe what he was to her were from love stories and love songs, but those were not words anyone truly meant.  They were like Jared, in a way.  If they were real, they would be terrifying.

Kami and Jared have been in one another’s heads since they were born.  They share everything, every feeling, every event, all of those things someone might only share with a diary–because someone that doesn’t exist is the safest person of all.  When Jared and Kami meet, they go through a confused barrage of emotions that seems at a glance must be wonderful, but upon further inspection is horrifying.  They cannot trust their own emotions, because they don’t know how much they are projecting on one another.  To realize that someone knows you so completely that you are almost dependent upon one another for every breath means that you must always mean everything to one another, and that risking the rejection that could come if romantic thoughts were ever in play becomes too great.

To Jared, the link between himself and Kami was some sort of gift that he received undeserved, a gift that redeemed the rest of his life.  His lack of confidence in himself and her relationship to him is to the point of manic, and Kami feels the constant weight of holding Jared together.  To Kami, the link means she can never be alone, can never trust herself to reveal to Jared how she feels, and can never really even be sure if her feelings are real.  It’s unhealthy, but my girl Kami is level headed enough to see this even through the cloud of Jared’s dependence and adoration, and I love her for her braveness.

The struggle of a relationship that is both symbiotic and parasitic makes Unspoken shine, and places an unexpected amount of emotional depth under a story that is exciting, harrowing, and fun.  For everyone who loves those Gothic stories with mansions, evil, and a distinct lack of safety in sleepy small towns, Unspoken delivers.

Sarah Rees Brennan triology plan

Image via Chachic. And the author. Because they are awesome and this needed to be here.

*I actually want to clarify my annoyance with this ending.  I dislike when major plot lines are left open, which I feel like they were here as far as the action went, BUT I did actually like the relationship developments toward the end of the story.  I feel they were necessary, but I’m so angry at certain characters’ words and actions I could spit.

Likelihood that I’ll be back for more:  I may be extremely upset with Sarah Rees Brennan at the moment, but yes, yes, I will be back to see where the story of Sorry-in-the-Vale goes…not to mention the fact that after finishing I placed immediate requests at the library for The Demon’s Lexicon and Team Human.  If I can’t have more of The Lynburn Legacy right this second, I will have more Brennan.

Recommended for: Those who love girl sleuths ala Nancy Drew or Veronica Mars, complex relationships in YA, Gothic reads, Hot Fuzz, and being tortured (okay, the tortured thing is just because of the ending…as soon as the whole series is out I’ll wholeheartedly push it on everyone).

Real life repercussions of reading this book:
My long time favorite band, Metric, released their new album, Synthetica, about the same time as I was devouring Unspoken.  As such, my favorite song on the album, Lost Kitten is thoroughly lodged in my head as reminding me of Kami and Jared’s messed up complex relationship:

When you lie, I cover it up
When you hide, I cover it up
When you cry, I cover it up
When you come undone, I cover it up

Get a second opinion:
Ivy Book Bindings – “Unspoken is another must-read of 2012 and Brennan has, yet again, managed to take me utterly by surprise.”
The Book Smugglers – “I am really interested to see how this story will progress over the course of this series – I am totally onboard for that.”
Book Harbinger – “While I wouldn’t change anything about Unspoken, it’s going to be a long wait for Unbound.”
Chachic’s Book Nook – “Unspoken is a really good read, I liked it even better than the two Demon’s Lexicon novels that I’ve read.”
Random Musings of a Bibliophile – “If you are a fan of the Gothic romance, creepy families, intrepid heroines, and mystery this would be a fun read. And seriously how can you not want to have fun with a book that contains all that?”
Steph Su Reads – “For an author in a position of literary influence (I thought that Sarah Rees Brennan’s Demon’s Lexion trilogy was great, and she belongs to a literary circle of some of the most influential YA authors in the past decade), I was greatly disappointed by all the clichés and tropes that this story ended up using.”

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28 comments »

  1. Jazmin says:

    OMG I agree with this review wholeheartedly, though I disagree on the ending. I kinda saw it coming, but it still hurt when it came to pass. Also, really quickly but when you mention kami’s friends, it’s Angela, not Andrea who’s her friend. Sorry, but the whole name threw me off for a bit right.
    Also, I LOVE YOUR CHOICE OF SONG FOR THE KAMI-JARED RELATIONSHIP, METRIC IS MY FAVORITE BAND IN THE HISTORY OF EVER AND LOST KITTEN HAS HOOKED ME IN SINCE THE BEGINNING. But again, personally, I thought youth without youth is a good overall theme song for this story! love your review!!!

    • Heidi says:

      Ack, fixed, thank you, Jazmin! I’m honestly terrible with names, and I think Andrea’s in my head from reading Gunmetal Magic and Jane Jameson (both have Andreas). I appreciate you pointing it out. :)

      Yeah, I think most readers were annoyed by the Kami/Jared stuff at the end, which is why I wanted to clarify that while I was annoyed with the ending, I don’t think it was for the reasons that the bulk of people were.

      Yay for fellow Metric fans!! To me, Youth Without Youth is more about growing up really rough, which Jared might have, but Kami certainly didn’t and Sorry-in-the-Vale is such a (seemingly) sweet sleepy little town. But then, not all of Lost Kitten works entirely either. 😛

  2. I don’t think I ever really realized how often the “friends disappearing” thing happened in YA but now that you mention it, it is so true. I’ve never read any Sarah Rees Brennan. For some reason, and I have absolutely no clue what it is, I always confuse her with Libba Bray. What’s a girl to do?

    • Heidi says:

      Mmhmm…I mean, the friend thing happens in real life too, so I suppose that’s fair, but still. I’ve read all of Libba Bray (except The Diviners), but this was my first Sarah Rees Brennan. They’re really nothing alike, but MEH. 😛

      I’m picking up Team Human and The Demon’s Lexicon from the library this afternoon–hopefully I enjoy those as well!

  3. TG says:

    I’m really glad you said that about the ending (the plot lines being left open), because from what I’ve seen, people think the issue with the ending is Kami/Jared. I was fine with Kami/Jared (it hurt, but it was good storytelling) but what I really disliked was what happened with the Big Bad. After the reveal, things were left hanging; everybody seemed to just go home and I was like “What? What’s stopping you all from being killed in your beds? Nothing was resolved!”

    • Heidi says:

      Thanks, TG! Yeah, that’s why I felt the need to put it in there. I feel like everyone’s so upset about Kami/Jared, but I really wasn’t (other than them both being stupid now because suddenly Kami takes everything he says at face value even though she knows him better than that–but again, that’s good for the story even if it hurts).

  4. Yes! I absolutely cannot wait to read this. 😀

    Great review.

  5. Heidi, your review was every bit as wonderful as I thought it would be and even BETTER. Seriously, if you ever decide to write a book, I will be the FIRST person to buy it because you’re one of those people whose writing exceeds all expectations! :)

    I simply adore your review for this one, dear. It explained so articulately and beautifully the complex relationship between Kami and Jared, not to mention Kami’s relationships with her parents and friends, aspects I only touched upon in my review as I had no idea how to write about them. Like you, I’ve come to appreciate and love the ending Sarah Rees Brennan gave us as I think it is SO necessary to the overall story. I read The Spring After I Met You, a short prequel novella about Jared, and that really made me realize that Kami and Jared’s strange relationship really was kind of unhealthy too. Thus, I am SO excited to see Kami and Jared fall in love – and rediscover – each other all over again.

    Wonderful, wonderful review! I think this one might be my favorite review of yours, even more than your reviews for the Jessica Darling Series! It’s just beautiful! 😀

    • Heidi says:

      Awe, thanks so much, Keertana! You’re so sweet. I just had SO MANY THOUGHTS bout Kami and Jared, it’s a little ridiculous. I’m not sure why, but I found them and their relationship dynamics completely fascinating and I can’t wait to see where they go. I’m so interested to see if they DO end up together, because I really don’t know if they will or not. Jared really has a lot of healing and growing to do as his own person, and I hope that he’ll realize that Kami is STILL there for him and still loves him so much.

      I CAN’T WAIT FOR UNBOUND!!!

  6. I still can’t decide if I want to read this one. I *think* I do, but it does have all of those cliches you mentioned. I am a big fan of gothic settings though, so I’m guessing I’ll get to it eventually.

    Fab review, as usual!

    • Heidi says:

      Yeah, I obviously loved this one, but at the same time I can’t blame anyone for choosing not to read it, or to hold off on it. I know that those cliches really put some readers off, and those people didn’t enjoy this one. It was the right book at the right time for me, hopefully you’ll read it when the time is right too! :)

  7. elena says:

    Grr I really want to read this book but the CLIFFHANGER!!! I am sure I will be upset, then forget, so I am not sure if I should really read it or not. I like how it seems typical but it was enjoyable! I especially like that Kami is 1/4 Japanese, that’s awesome. Fantastic review, Heidi!

    • Heidi says:

      Yep, it is typical, but I thought at the same time it was really fun and well done! I liked that Kami’s Japanese heritage was important to her and her parents, and that her and her two brothers all look so differently.

      The cliffhanger is a killer, I was in a rage for days, but I’ve gotten over it by now. I’ll have forgotten the pain by the time she does it to us again in books two. 😛

  8. VeganYANerds says:

    Well if I wasn’t already convinced that I needed to read this, I am now, Heidi! This sounds really good, I like the sound of both Kami and Jared and you really got me interested with your mention of Nancy Drew/VMars!

    Also, don’t get me started on endings like this but I’m glad it didn’t totally spoil the book for you 😉

    • Heidi says:

      I’m so glad to hear it, Mands! I’m really excited to hear your thoughts, I loved both of these characters (even if they’re a bit messed up). I know Sarah Rees Brennan LOVES Veronica Mars, and was definitely influenced by it. The ending did have me raging, but in a good way I suppose. :)

  9. Chachic says:

    *nods head* Unspoken had some of the things that I usually don’t like in YA novels but I really enjoyed reading it! More than her Demon Lexicon books probably because I could relate more to Kami than Nick. Speaking of, you just reminded me that I have Demon’s Surrender sitting on my shelf. I should finish that so I can borrow Team Human if they have a copy in the library.

    • Heidi says:

      Yeah I’m really interested to start the Demon’s Lexicon series and see how I like it. I don’t see how I could possibly enjoy it quite as much as Unspoken, but then, with her brand of humor I don’t see how I couldn’t enjoy it either. I’ll probably read Team Human first though since everyone’s praise of that one has gotten me very excited to check it out.

  10. HOLY MOLY I NEED TO ORDER THIS.

    I had a netgalley copy but alas, it expired.

    PLUS THIS:

    “That’s right, there’s this whole list of things that I hate about YA novels, and they’re in Unspoken, but I didn’t care.” — I think that is the mark of GREAT writing.

    • Heidi says:

      Um yeah, you do, I think you would LOVE this one, April! I feel like even though it had some unwelcome tropes, she really turned things on their head and made them her own. I loved the humor in this book, and I can’t wait to read more of Brennan’s work!

  11. […] this novel and Team Human, I’m pretty much hooked on Sarah Rees Brennan’s writing” Bunbury in the Stacks – “The struggle of a relationship that is both symbiotic and parasitic makes Unspoken […]

  12. […] keep us on the edge of our seats as our attachment to those involved grows.  Naughty John proves once again that skipping songs are creepy and telling, and that perhaps we all should have listened closer to […]

  13. […] Fun: The Hero’s Guide to Saving Your Kingdom by Christopher Healy Most Frustrating Ending: Unspoken by Sarah Rees Brennan Best Retelling: The Humming Room by Ellen Potter Best Stand […]

  14. […] Unspoken by Sarah Rees Brennan Untold by Sarah Rees Brennan The Spring Before I Met You by Sarah Rees Brennan The Summer Before I Met You by Sarah Rees Brennan Team Human by Sarah Rees Brennan and Justine Larbalestier […]

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