Review: Unspoken

Unspoken – Sarah Rees Brennan

Published: September 2012

Rating: 9/10

Sourced: Bought copy

Forest deep, silent bells

There’s a story no one tells

Valley quiet, water still

Lynburns watching on the hill

Apples red, corn gold

Almost everyone grows old.

And there we have it. If you’re not running out to buy a copy of Unspoken after reading that deliciously creepy little taster, then we clearly are never going to get along and this relationship was doomed from the beginning.

I have been hanging out for Unspoken for months and months, for two reasons: one, I adore Sarah Rees Brennan. She’s funny, she’s sassy, she’s really good at diverse and complex characters, and she joined up with one of my favourite Australian authors to deliver us the beauty that was Team Human earlier this year (see my review here). Two, she’s written an intrepid gothic journalist heroine who not only speaks to a possibly imaginary boy in her head, but has been compared to my favourite girl-detective, Veronica Mars (and, again, if you’re not buried in this book after that note, we’re done).

When you spend so much time anticipating a particular title, there is always that moment of dread – will it be as great as I hope? What if this is a one-off awful title from an otherwise brilliant author?

Ladies and gentlemen, I’m pleased to announce that Sarah Rees Brennan has delivered yet another cracking young adult read, full of spine-tinglingly spooky old houses, giggle-inducing witty banter and a cast of characters just as charming as they are diverse.

Welcome to the small English town of Sorry-in-the-Vale (see also: Sorriest River and Crying Pools. Brennan, have I mentioned that I love you?), where secrets run deep and fear/reverence of the town’s founding family, the Lynburns, is practically ingrained at birth. But they’ve been gone for years, and, for our heroine Kami, the power of the Lynburns has been reduced to a story. One she would like to crack right open in an expose for her school newspaper when they return to town with two teenage boys in tow. The only problem? One of those boys might just be the ‘imaginary’ friend she’s been talking to in her head for her whole life.

Along with her winning (albeit reluctant) investigative team; including her slightly narcoleptic best friend Angela and her brother Rusty; Holly, the girl whose family has lived in the town for generations; and Ash, the other Lynburn boy, Kami makes it her mission to discover exactly what it is that the Lynburns are hiding – even as it puts her life in danger.

Unspoken is funny, gorgeous, a little bit scary and painfully realistic despite the paranormal elements. The relationship between Kami and Jared is astonishingly well explored. Their history, their fear of the impact that the other could have upon their lives and their growing feelings for one another are so incredibly well played out, although simultaneously frustrating and slightly torturous. You’ll want to shake Jared for being so stubborn and always jumping to conclusions; you’ll want to sigh at Kami and remind her not to over think everything. Their relationship is anything but instantaneous; it is the sum of years and years of being both the most comforting thing in one another’s lives and the most terrifying. The bond between Kami and Jared is utterly unique and completely engrossing.

But while this relationship is magnificent, it is the more peripheral ones that really show Brennan’s skill. Kami’s parents are, in full defiance of the typical YA ‘MIA parent’ trope, very present and supportive of their daughter. Kami’s relationship with her mother, in particular, feels natural and familiar – if my mother and I discussed spells and curses and imaginary-but-not-voices in my head, that is. Same goes for her relationship the incredibly beautiful Angela, who although at times disappears from the storyline rather conveniently, nonetheless manages to exist outside of her position as sidekick to Kami. She’s interesting, full of sass, and pretty much the opposite of the typical, boy crazy best mate (I’m looking at you, Vee from Hush Hush). She and Kami also have a shared background of being outsiders to the town (Angela’s family moved there in recent years, Kami’s grandmother was Japanese) which allows Brennan to have them ignorant of the finer points of town history. It works well, since the audience gets to discover the secrets of Sorry-in-the-Vale along with the main characters.

As for the rest of the story, well, the fantasy elements are cool and quirky, and I look forward to seeing them further developed in the next book. The plot does tend to jump around a little, and there are a few elements that feel slightly familiar to Beautiful Creatures, but other than that there really isn’t fault to be found with this creepy and intriguing tale. Oh, and the ending? Predictable, but heartbreaking. Have you ever noticed that people really tend to stare when you yell at a book on public transport? Not the best idea I’ve had, I’ll admit. This one is great for fans of Maureen Johnson’s The Name of the Star, and for those who enjoyed Rosemary Clement-Moore’s gothic witchy stories, The Splendour Falls and Texas Gothic.

Cover love: I actually went out of my way to avoid having to buy the UK edition (below) of this title. I have even tried to hide it behind the US edition in the bookshop I work in. The US cover is unique, meaningful and absolutely gorgeous. The UK edition is pretty much the antithesis: it’s stock-standard, gives a misleading impression of the characters, and, well, the colours are awful. On the plus side, yay for no whitewashing!

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