I don't know exactly what I was expecting from Unravelling by Elizabeth Norris but what I ended up getting was a all-out action packed, science-fiction thriller with a little bit of romance chucked in for good measure. I loved it but did feel like I was being bombarded with too many genres and, although my nerdy self loved a lot of the references to pop culture, it did at times feel a little over-whelming and took me out of the story a couple of times.
Unravelling is the story of Janelle Tenner, a young girl whose father is the head of the local FBI unit. Her mother is bi-polar and Janelle has practically raised her kid brother Jared (darn these absentee parents) single-handed. Right at the start of the book Janelle is hit by a truck and literally dies. She doesn't stay dead though as a boy from school called Ben Michaels (whom Janelle has never spoke to before; has barely even noticed) brings her back to life, healing her injuries but he runs off before she can even ask him just exactly how he managed to save her.
This is where the story begins to kick into gear. Janelle is determined to find out Ben was able to save her, and the more evasive he is when confronted only makes her more determined to seek out the truth. Not only that, but the case her father is working on poses a direct threat to everyone Janelle holds dear. Janelle is something of an amateur sleuth (think Veronica Mars - the similarities are definitely there) and she draft in her best friend Alex (another wunderkind) to help with her own personal investigations. The case has something to do with mysterious dead bodies that keep turning up and these bodies are riddled with radiation poisoning. There is also a grim countdown clock - but what it is counting down to no one knows. Janelle is dogged in her investigations though - she is bent on figuring out these strange occurrences and to discovering the secrets Ben is clearly hiding, even if she is starting to fall for him. However, when tragedy strikes and Janelle discovers Ben and two of his 'stoner' friends may in fact be involved, she must confront potentially even more devastating truths. Something huge is happening, and the world itself may never be the same.
I have to give Elizabeth Norris props. The story of Unravelling was exciting and kept me on the edge of my seat. Most of the twists were unexpected and heart-breaking and I really felt a sense of urgency when I was reading it. The countdown chapters were a neat trick as they really added to the mounting tension and sense of unease that something catastrophic was about to happen. I also love when it when ya meets science fiction, in my mind there is not enough mixing of the two genres.
However, I did find Janelle a frustrating protagonist. I guess you could say I have a bit of a love-hate relationship with her. Don't get me wrong, I was glad she wasn't some wishy-washy main character. She was confident in herself and her smarts but this did at times make her a little hard to like as she veered over into arrogance on more than one occasion. Janelle comes over as cocky and abrasive and looks down on anyone she thinks of as not as serious or as smart as herself. Until Ben saved her she had never really given him any thought at all, writing him off as one of the 'stoners' and you never really get the sense that she is prepared to open her eyes a little when she discovers she is wrong about him. Like, you know, she may just have been too hard on people and there may be more to them? Don't judge a book by its cover springs to mind and all that.
Janelle comes across as judgmental and overly confident to me, even though she is not always proven right about things that are happening. I really didn't like the way she treated her boyfriend Nick either. She was basically with him because he was cute but she did not see much else there and when he acts in a way she doesn't like, he gets the boot pretty quickly. Don't get me wrong, I appreciated that there was not going to be a love-triangle between Janelle-Ben-Nick but I did think that Janelle was quite cold in how she basically got rid of Nick when she decided there was someone better for her. I did like that she wasn't a doormat who didn't lay down and let things happen to her but there just seemed to be so many things in her past designed to make the reader feel sorry for her: absentee parent, bi-polar mother, the fact that she basically raised her kid brother, betrayed by (female) best friend, roofied and raped at a party etc, etc. Janelle is portrayed as something of a martyr but this worked against her for me and I quickly got tired of her poor-me attitude.
However, Ben more than made up for Janelle. I really loved how sweet and devoted he was (even though I was scratching my head a bit at why he felt as he did towards Janelle). I wish we had gotten to spend more time with him and also Elijah and Reid his 'stoner' friends ****spoiler begins****it turns out the three of them are from an alternate universe. They ended up in our universe by accident and have been trying to get home, opening portals to try and find their way back. The irradiated bodies are a result of their experiments - people being pulled from other universes. The boys only survived their trip via portal due to drinking a strange concoction, and this is what has given them their uncanny abilities****spoiler ends****. I also really liked Alex, Janelle's super-smart best friend and wished he played a greater part in the story. There were also a lot of other interesting side-characters who gave the story a bit more grounding.
Overall, I did really enjoy Unravelling, even though there were a few too many tropes crammed in. I also feel the book was a bit too genre-savvy at times. It borrowed a bit too much from pop culture which makes it hard to separate it and judge it on its own merit. However I totally had a ball reading it and I actually am very excited to read the sequel which should be coming out fairly soon.