Unraveling by Elizabeth Norris
Balzer + Bray, 2012
Sixteen-year-old Janelle Tenner is used to having a lot of responsibility. She balances working as a lifeguard in San Diego with an intense academic schedule. Janelle’s mother is bipolar, and her dad is a workaholic FBI agent, which means Janelle also has to look out for her younger brother, Jared.
And that was before she died…and is brought back to life by Ben Michaels, a mysterious, alluring loner from her high school. When she discovers a strange clock that seems to be counting down to the earth’s destruction, Janelle learns she has twenty-four days to figure out how to stop the clock and save the planet.
Unraveling was advertised as a cross between 24 and The X-Files. I’ve never seen an episode of The X-Files, but did watch the first season of 24, so figured this would be an action-packed book. And I was right; it’s pretty much nonstop going, going, going from beginning to end.
This book starts off with a bang – literally – when the main character, Janelle, is hit by a truck and dies. The strange thing, though, is that she wakes up, with a classmate – Ben Michaels – leaning over her telling her she’ll be all right. Janelle knows that Ben brought her back to life, but can’t figure out what that means. Meanwhile, her FBI agent father is working on a case where badly burned bodies are appearing out of nowhere, and a countdown has appeared, ticking down to some unknown conclusion. Things come to a head when someone Janelle cares for is killed, and it becomes a race to stop the countdown and save everyone’s lives.
Janelle is a girl with some very serious problems (dying and being brought back to life only one of them): her mother is mentally ill, her father surrounds himself in work and is rarely home, and the parenting and care of her younger brother, Jared, has fallen solely on her. She’s also dealing with some personal things, namely the aftermath of a traumatic experience while at a party a couple of years prior. Ben – the boy who saves her – had never even been on her radar until she saw him leaning over her; she’d taken him at face value and assumed he was your typical stoner loser. But after he saves her, she can’t help but be drawn to him, namely because she wants to know exactly what he did to her – at least at first – but their relationship starts to grow from the get-go.
I found myself really engaged with Janelle’s narrative. The book is told in present tense, which is really the only way an “it’s the end of the world” book can be written, especially one that incorporates the countdown into the beginning of each chapter. There was an urgency in the narrative, the frantic-ness (that’s totally not a word, but bear with me) of the characters thoughts and actions setting the pace and making this a very hard book to stop reading. I was literally drawn in from the very first page. I also adored the slow-burning romance that builds between Ben and Janelle, even while everything else is spinning out of control and more and more is discovered about Ben and his abilities and how everything comes together. While you have the initial fascination of Janelle with Ben, there isn’t any “insta-love”; they slowly start talking, spending time together, and becoming friends before anything romantic really happens.
I do, however, have a couple of complaints. First off, I have an avid dislike of the phrase, “I released a breath I didn’t even know I was holding,” and it happens five times in this book. And yes, I noticed it all five times. This is totally just a personal preference/annoyance, but MAN did it pull me out of the narrative. Also, the author utilized flashbacks to talk about various things that Janelle was thinking about. When she’s lying there dead, she gets one of those “life flashes before her eyes” occurrences, in which she sees a number of things. All of those crop up again throughout the book, with her flashing back to experience them again. We also have actual flashbacks, like to Halloween when she was ten, or to that party where something happened to her, etc. Some of the times it worked all right, but other times it was really disruptive to the narrative and flow of the story. I wish the author had done less of these, or found some other place to insert them, particularly when it got to the end of the book and everything was coming together fast and furious. But that was really my only complaint: as far as the plot and suspense and all of that, this book was really well done.
And I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the ending, which broke my heart a bit. I am not going to elaborate as I don’t want to spoil anything for anyone, but, yes. Sad. I read that the author is writing a sequel, though, so that’s good news for me. Perhaps some of that sadness will be alleviated in the next installment.
I do want to point out that this book does contain a fair bit of profanity, which is tossed around seemingly without thought. Just a heads up if that sort of thing bothers you.
If you’re a fan of suspenseful and action-packed writing, and an engaging main character who is strong but still fragile and trying to handle entirely too much, then check this book out. It’s now available in North America from the bookseller of your choice.
An e-galley was provided by the publisher via Edelweiss in exchange for an honest review.