Review of Unspoken by Sarah Rees Brennan

unspoken-by-sarah-rees-brennanKate and I were very lucky to recently get our hands on an ARC of Untold, by Sarah Rees Brennan, the second book in the Lynburn Legacy series. I read Unspoken last year and told Kate to check it out, and we both LOVED it. I do not know what kind of bookstore sorcery Kate worked to get her hands on Untold, but she better keep working it.

Ok, but before we get to the magic of Untold, we need to talk about Unspoken. Let’s get down to it. Sarah Rees Brennan is a great author. Unspoken is full of elements that seem all too common in YA, and you think it’s going to be predictable. Then she flips everything on its head and events unfold in ways that are totally surprising, and yet seem like the only way any of it could possibly happen. Rees Breenan seems to get great glee out of setting up classic YA tropes and then wildly spiking them into a wonderful new direction.

So Unspoken* goes a little like this: At the beginning of the first book, our protagonist, Kami Glass, is growing up in an idyllic English village, Sorry-in-the-Vale, putting her endless enthusiasm and spunk into driving her best friend Angela crazy and Nancy Drew-ing her way into opening a school newspaper. Her first story? The return of the mysterious and influential Lynburn family to Sorry-in-the-Vale. Oh, and by the way: Kami has an imaginary friend, Jared, whose voice she has heard in her head since she was a baby. It turns out that Jared is not only real, he is Jared Lynburn, and quickly things in Kami’s life get too complicated for words. Aloud or in her head.

* We are choosing to link to Annie Bloom’s Books not only because Kate works there (and it is very neat) but because we think that supporting indie booksellers is very important!

Kami's spiritual ancestor, Nancy Drew

Kami’s spiritual ancestor, Nancy Drew

Things I like About Unspoken

The imaginary friend: Guess what? Having the voice in your head turn out to be a real person isn’t immediately romantic and wonderful, it’s awkward and a little scary. Kami and Jared are forced to navigate the reality of each other, and it’s not easy. Its funny and sweet and sometimes charming, but it’s never simple. There are some especially great bits about confronting the physical reality of each other. And I don’t really mean that in a sexy way so much as Kami trying to match Jared’s tone of voice in her head with his facial expressions in real life (ok, I also mean it a little bit in the sexy way).

The racial diversity: Kami is part Japanese, and it’s not a big deal. Its a part of her identity, and it affects the story in logical ways. Kami’s family is both intimately involved in Sorry-in-the-Vale historical mysteries AND outsiders. And on this note, the adults are actually present in the story. Kami has great parents, and some of the other parents are… not so great, but they are an integral part of the story.

It’s LGBTQ friendly: I don’t want to give too much away, but (at least) one of the teenage characters is coming to terms with their sexual identity, and it’s dealt with really adeptly. It’s real, and awkward, and a bit painful, and again, Not That Big of a Deal.

The writing: It’s written in a really breezy, accessible way, and then suddenly some incredibly apt description or turn of phrase will pop out and make it feel all too real. As primary narrator, Kami has a really quick sense of humor, and the book reflects this. I appreciate that the teenagers sound and act like teenagers. Sure they sound like teenagers by way of John Green characters, but they sound real.

All of the characters: Kami and Jared are vividly drawn, but so is every supporting character. I would like to babysit Kami’s  awesome little brothers Ten and Tomo. I’d like to hang out and take a floor nap with Kami’s best friend Angela and her brother Rusty. And I’d be happy for Kami to make out with Jared, his cousin Ash, or Rusty. Any of them, in any combination. They are all such real, dynamic characters.

What makes Kami a Strong Female Character

Kami meets a lot of the characteristics for strong female characters that Kate and I have lined up. She meets basically all nine of our criteria, yet she is not perfect, and that’s what makes her compelling. She has a knack for seeing the world around her really clearly, but – like many of us – doesn’t see herself or her motivations with as much lucidity. She could use a healthier sense of self-preservation, but she’s not foolhardy; it’s more that she ranks the safety and needs of other people above her own. Kami’s strongest trait may be emotional resilience. She was raised in a very loving, nurturing home, and she has a strong sense of self and values her own intelligence and wit. And, most importantly, she understands that having Jared in her head is not healthy for either of them, and will at some point need to come to an end. She is physically brave, and highly capable, but in a “years of self-defense lessons with Rusty” way, not a super-hero way.

So basically this is a very long winded way of saying you should get your hands on Unspoken. It’s crazy charming.

PrintFor fun, here is the paperback cover of Unspoken. The author talks at her blog about the process for the cover change, and how she lobbied for those boobs, as Kami is meant to be curvy. That is the opposite of how I imagine those conversations usually going, and I find it hilarious.

Charlotte’s review of the ARC of Untold is on its way soon. And she would have been very happy with Untold even if it had only been various characters kissing.

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One thought on “Review of Unspoken by Sarah Rees Brennan

  1. Pingback: ARC Review of Untold by Sarah Rees Brennan | Sassafrakas

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