Fiction, Science Fiction, Young Adult

Review: Unraveling by Elizabeth Norris

Unraveling book cover
Image from A Book and a Latte

Title: Unraveling

Author: Elizabeth Norris

Genre: Science Fiction

Seventeen-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. And that was before she died…and is brought back to life by Ben Michaels, a mysterious loner from her high school. The more Janelle tries to figure him out, the more she starts to believe he’s connected to a case her father is working on. The one where people are dying of radiation poisoning and the body count is rising. The one that involves a strange clock that seems to be counting down to the earth’s destruction. If Janelle wants to stop the clock and save the world, she has twenty-four days to uncover Ben’s secrets–and keep from falling in love with him.

Unraveling is a book I thought sounded vaguely interesting, but I wasn’t going to go out of my way for it. But when I won it in a random drawing at Adventures in YA and Children’s Publishing, I decided to just read it, already.

Janelle was okay. She had a severe do-it-herself mentality and wasn’t afraid to commit herself to something. She could also be obsessive, which occasionally got annoying. In the beginning, I pegged her as a Nancy Drew-style put-it-all-together-to-figure-out-the-answer investigator. But as it went on and she became more emotionally traumatized, she got a little more reckless and trigger-happy. And while I did feel bad for her, I wanted her to look for answers instead of using guns and blackmail.

Ben was not my favorite. He had YA Male Lead written all over him. He was sweet and kind, kept secrets because he didn’t want to hurt anyone (or get hurt), and had no problems expressing his feelings once a girl convinced him to open up. I’m not saying he was a bad character to read about, but even his flaws were perfect.

Jenelle’s friend Alex was my favorite character, and I don’t think he got the page time he deserved. He was patient – extremely so – and very loyal. But he could stand up for his own opinions, too. He and Janelle were very close (in a non-romantic way, although I think it might have developed into something if given the chance). He was the under-appreciated best friend. Well, under-appreciated by Janelle. I appreciated him very much.

So, the plot starts out good. Janelle’s trying to figure out how the heck Ben brought her back from the dead. Plus, there’s an ominous countdown and a string of weird radiation-burn deaths that she takes on herself to solve. Then she falls in love with Ben and cared more about loving him than figuring out his resurrection powers. And at the end it becomes a stop-the-end-of-the-world thing.

It’s the end-of-the-world part that really killed Unraveling for me. I can’t exactly say why, but something didn’t sit right about it. Maybe it’s because I’ve seen this specific idea done better. Whatever the reason, though, it read like something thrown in because it would be more exciting, not because it was naturally where it went.

That’s part of what made Unraveling seem just a little too long. The last fifty pages drug along on the power of a handful of emotional moments and a bazillion scenes of destruction. It wasn’t like there weren’t any big reveals in the last fifty pages. I just somehow stopped caring. But at that point, I was committed, so I finished it anyway.

Unraveling just didn’t do it for me. The ending was too preposterous, and there were too many deaths that seemed to be there only to make Janelle cry. But I have never had a book lose me in the last fifty pages before, so it gets the award for that. I am not a fan.

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