Unspoken by Sarah Rees Brennan
|Author:||Sarah Rees Brennan|
|Publisher(s):||Random House Books for Young Readers (US) Simon & Schuster Childrens Books (UK)|
|Formatt:||Hardcover / Paperback / Ebook|
|Release Date:||September 11, 2012 (US) September 13, 2012 (UK)|
Kami Glass is everything I’ve always wanted in a YA fantasy heroine. She’s clever (though not to the point of being obnoxious), strong-willed (at times to the point of foolishness, but never so much that I got fed up), and able to hold her own against sorcerers and magic despite having no particular powers herself (that part’s not entirely true, but the full explanation is complicated and likely contains spoilers, so for now, I’ll say that she’s a perfectly normal teenage girl).
Oh, and the rest of the book’s really good too.
What I said earlier about her being a normal teenage girl is no more true than her having no particular powers: For her whole life, Kami has had another person’s thoughts inside her head. She’s been able to communicate with a friend of hers named Jared, and while this has led to her being considered rather weird (which, in a small English town, means her social life is basically dead), she hasn’t had much of a problem with it. Her best friend, Angela Montgomery, has stuck by her since they were twelve, and as the book begins, Kami has just convinced Angela to help her start a school newspaper. The first issue will cover something that just about everyone in town is talking about: the return of the Lynburns.
The Lynburn family was once the most powerful family in Sorry-in-the-Vale, and even though they’ve been gone for years, they’re still remembered in occasional sayings, and people still talk about “when the Lynburns return”. When the two Lynburn boys arrive at Kami’s school, it’s fairly obvious there’s something different about them. One, Ash, seems to be the typical perfect boy in YA novels, though he’s charming enough and just out-of-place enough in the modern world of Sorry-in-the-Vale that I didn’t mind at all. The other is named Jared, and there is certainly no coincidence there.
Jared and Kami butt heads as soon as they meet in an elevator, and their first meeting is just another thing I love about this book. Sarah Rees Brennan has managed to write a novel that feels completely real, even with all the fantastical elements in the plot, and I often found myself interrupting whatever other family members were doing so I could read a passage aloud. I may not have read Kami’s introduction to Jared to them, but I enjoyed reading it enough that I strongly considered it. Any reader familiar with fantasy works (and likely plenty who aren’t) would have figured out that a voice in Kami’s head and a mysterious new student with the same name couldn’t possibly be two different people, and Kami’s gradual realization that her lifelong friend and the annoying boy standing beside her in the elevator are one and the same was excellently done.
I could go on about how fond I am of the characters (Rusty, Angela’s nap-obsessed older brother who taught both her and Kami self-defense, being a particular favorite of mine) and tone (the sort of sharp sass that only a well-read teen can properly pull off), but the plot itself is just as good. Not long after the Lynburns’ return, mysterious things begin to happen in Sorry-in-the-Vale, as should only have been expected. Kami and Ash discover what appears to be an animal sacrifice deep in the woods, and Kami, the intrepid reporter that she is, decides to investigate further. During her quest for answers, she begins to learn that magic is very real and has been part of Sorry-in-the-Vale for generations, even to the point where it’s tied to her own family.
And then the story really gets going.
I mentioned before that Kami Glass is everything I’ve wanted in a YA fantasy heroine. That statement could be expanded to cover the whole book. Her friendship with Angela feels like a real friendship between two teenage girls, complete with all the minor arguments that never wind up actually ruining anything but feel like something large at the time. Her relationship with her parents is slightly idealized, but not to the point where it feels too perfect. Her mother is simply the slightly-better version of the mother driven to protect her family at all costs, and her father… well, he’s the sort of father a good many people of Kami’s generation are familiar with. He makes dad jokes and is generally a dork, but the sort that’s loveable because of his dorkiness. Her little brothers, Tenri and Tomo, have distinct personalities and just feel the way little brothers do (as someone who’s grown up with nothing but younger siblings and cousins, I know when fictional younger siblings feel right).
(Did I mention that Kami had a Japanese grandmother, or that her heritage is treated very well in the book without being harped on? Because both of those are true.)
It’s become something of a thing to have strong female characters or plucky young women as protagonists, and all too often, the strength comes from being able to punch people in the face and not show any girly emotions while the pluckiness becomes the main (and in some cases only) character trait. At the risk of repeating what I’ve already said (albeit in a different fashion), this is not the case with Kami. Her pluck feels natural, in part because it isn’t dedicated to showing that she’s different from every other girl. She knows she’s different; what she mostly wants is to start a school newspaper and investigate the mysteries cropping up in her town. Her strength feels natural as well, and it’s counterpointed perfectly with moments of genuine vulnerability that make her seem real rather than weak.
If all YA fantasy could be written like this, I don’t think I’d ever move on to another genre.