Friday, May 11, 2012

Book Review: Unraveling

Two days before the start of her junior year, seventeen-year-old Janelle Tenner is hit by a pickup truck and killed—as in blinding light, scenes of her life flashing before her, and then nothing. Except the next thing she knows, she's opening her eyes to find Ben Michaels, a loner from her high school whom Janelle has never talked to, leaning over her. And even though it isn't possible, she knows—with every fiber of her being—that Ben has somehow brought her back to life.

But her revival, and Ben's possible role in it, is only the first of the puzzles that Janelle must solve. While snooping in her FBI agent father's files for clues about her accident, she uncovers a clock that seems to be counting down to something—but to what? And when someone close to Janelle is killed, she can no longer deny what's right in front of her: Everything that's happened—the accident, the murder, the countdown clock, Ben's sudden appearance in her life—points to the end of life as she knows it. And as the clock ticks down, she realizes that if she wants to put a stop to the end of the world, she's going to need to uncover Ben's secrets—and keep from falling in love with him in the process.

This book was surprising in a lot of ways for me.  The premise interested me, as did some of the reviews I saw around the web, but honestly I kept putting it off.  The first chapter didn't grab me initially so I kept placing it lower and lower on my reading pile until I finally realized it was out in stores so I should get a move on.

I'm really glad I did.  It was gripping, tense and (most of the time) fast paced.  The kind of back and forth narrative threw me originally, but I got used to it over time.  The book is set up much like the 'countdown' Janelle is trying to solve.  So much so that entire days go by without any chapters, or several chapters bunched together form half a day story wise.

Ben, Elijah and Reid reminded me of the universe-hopping Quinn and the crew of the original season of the 90's scifi show SLIDERS.  Its more or less how they ended up trans versing time and space--though Quinn's crew were older and had a better idea how to get home.

I thought it was a great touch to have Janelle be such a solid rock in her dysfunctional family.  I think a lot of young adults can relate to that in this world of one parent households and the divorce rate so high.  Though Janelle has both parents, its almost as if she really only has half of one as her father is absent or so involved in his work he's not often able to play the parent role.  And she pulled it off.  In the short time we're in her life, Janelle's predominant thought process was almost always 'Is my mom taken care of, is my brother okay, is my father working himself too hard'.

This isn't to say that Norris makes her the biggest martyr ever.  Janelle is quite aware that her responsibilities weigh her down and has a healthy amount of bitterness towards her parents for not stepping up to the plate, but she doesn't let that get in the way.  Janelle wears responsibility comfortably and in a lot of ways she looks for ways to be more responsible.

The story feels a bit fragmented though.  Janelle deals with so many big issues in her life--her mother's illness, her father's increasingly dangerous job, what happened when she died, unresolved issues with her ex-best friend, unresolved issue with what broke them apart, the end of the world, her feelings for Ben, his mysterious connection to everything--it made the story disjointed at times.

We'd go from Janelle investigating the latest crime scene of radiation victims, to her contemplating how to ditch her not quite steady Nick at a party, then to her dealing with her mom's mental instability, back to the crime scene investigation on to her feelings for Ben...I think Norris was trying to illustrate how even a big issue like her experience with dying doesn't disrupt normal everyday things.  But the normal stuff stood out like a sore thumb.

I'm at odds with if Norris makes another book.  The ending suited the book I feel and I'd be wary of destroying the resolution found at the end.  Then again, I want more.  So...yeah.  Not sure XD