Unraveling, by Elizabeth Norris (Balzer + Bray, YA, April 24, 2012) is a sci-fi romance thriller, that I found a gripping (though perhaps overly busy) read.
When we first meet seventeen-year-old Janelle Tenner, she's finishing up a day as a lifeguard at a San Diego beach, making plans with her new almost boy friend, and finding her car tires slashed by bitchy jealous girls.
My thoughts: Nothing unusual. She seems nice enough, the boy seems nice enough, the girls are bitchy.
But then Janelle decides to jog home...and is hit by a pickup truck and killed...except that the one person on earth who can bring her back to life just happens to be there--Ben Michaels, a high school classmate from the stoner fringe, a boy who Janelle had barely noticed. And Ben heals her broken body.
My thoughts: is Ben an angel???? (this isn't the vibe I got from the cover--there's nary a feather in sight--but you never know).
Being killed and brought back to life is strange and disturbing, but worse is to come. Janelle knows her Dad, a high-up guy in the FBI, will have started a file on her accident--finding out who the driver was, and the circumstances. But when she starts snooping through his files, she opens a can of worms.
My thought: lax security, Dad.
Here's what her Dad is investigating--bodies of unidentifiable people turning up, hideously, horribly burned by radiation, and an extraordinarily high-tech countdown clock. Both Janelle and her father reach the same conclusion--that there is a bio-terror assault on its way. Janelle enlists her best friend, a guy named Alex, to help her find out more.
My thoughts: ok, an interesting FBI-ish mystery/plot to be unravelled by clever teens. Fine.
And meanwhile, at high school, J. is (naturally--the dude brought her back from the dead) drawn to Ben. He is More than he Seemed. We see J.'s mom, caught in the grips of horrible depression, and see her trying to look out for her younger brother--she is the caretaker of her family.
My thoughts: I liked the high school bits, where Ben and J. spar in English class and conduct physics experiments, lots. He is showing no signs of being Angelic--but obviously there is something up with him (like, the ability to bring people back from the dead).
Then someone close to Janelle is killed. The darkness grows. The clock is ticking...
My thoughts: I am interested in this book, but there is still lots and lots of it left to read! The bioterrorism plot doesn't seem to be advancing much. Ben is still not an angel.
THEN. A twist! An unexpected leap into sci fi! A sudden game changing revelation, that ups the stakes (both in terms of Ben and J.'s romance, and the fate of the world).
My thoughts, on reaching the end of the book: Goodness. What a lot just happened. It all makes sense now...but I think I liked it best when we were just concerned with horrible dead bodies and the threat of bioterrorism...the sci fi part was not so gripping, plus the romance plot begins to take up a lot of room...
My general thoughts about Janelle: All her life J. has been the person who saved others--even as a kid, she was pulling kids out from under waves; as she grew older, she had to save her family when her mom became depressed (and her little brother is only three years younger--she is way too over-protective).
Added to that, she is (understandably) disturbed about having been (possibly? she doesn't know) date-raped at a party a few years earlier. This is only tangentially relevant.
Now, as a seventeen year old, she has to help save the world. By the end of the book, she has fallen hard in love, she has lost loved ones, and her city has been devastated by horrible earthquakes. Yoicks.
A more believable, though possibly less interesting, story would be one in which J. cracks under pressure, tells her little brother to help more with the household tasks, and gives voice to the anger she feels towards her father viz. dumping the burden of her mother on her, and possibly runs screaming out of the house.
But no, she decides to play Girl Detective.
Thoughts on J.'s best friend, Alex--Alex is basically the guy next door, the only person who is consistently there for J. He is half-Asian, has a controlling mother, and seems to have no point in life (or the story) except being there for J., and being a voice of reason. Spoiler: highlight to read--I never like it when a minority side-kick gets killed for no good reason, as is the case here. Adding to J.'s burden of grief is unnecessary, plot-wise, at this point in the book.
Final thought about the book: a brisk read with lots of X-file-esque appeal. Some suspension of critical disbelief required. Perhaps too full of minor bits of story that don't advance the plot directly enough.
Note on sex: yes, there is
Note on graphically described dead people: yes, they are.
Disclaimer: review copy received from the publisher