Just wow. *~*~* The extended version:
What an idea. What a story. What a wonder this book is. I've gone all fangirly and fear for this review – it could so easily just become OMG-totes-awsum!!1!! blither. But I'll try not to slaver all over the place.
Our heroine, Kami, isn't altogether sure whether she's altogether sane. For as long as she can remember she has had an imaginary friend, Jared … It was cute when she was little, a bit worrying when she was a bit older, and those around her look very much askance now that she's seventeen and still talks to him in her mind. And he talks back.
How do you deal with it? Kami asked Jared. The laughing at nothing and occasionally stopping dead in your tracks. I have a system where when I stop, I lean casually against something, Jared told her. It makes people think I'm a bad boy. Or possibly that I have a bad back.
Her mother wants her to stop it; so, he tells her, does Jared's mother – which could be the response of a real boy, or it could, of course, be what an imaginary friend in this situation would say. And neither wants to end it, at all – they've had each other to turn to with laughter and tears all their lives, and the thought of losing her best friend makes Kami deeply uneasy.
When she abruptly meets him face to face, though, everything changes.
I loved everything about this book. I loved Kami and Jared, neither the stereotype of Young Adult Main Character but unique, very much themselves. I loved the people in their circles – Kami's best friend Angela had at least half of the best lines in the book. I loved Angela's brother Rusty, Kami's family (in some ways, a little like mine, only so much more consistently witty), the new addition to the circle of friends, Holly; I loved to hate Jared's family.
I loved the horror-tinged mystery that suddenly dropped into Kami's life – the suspense was beautifully done. I loved the writing – the highly literate, utterly naturalistic tone. I would have loved more of Jared's point of view – but there are good reasons why there are only glimpses. (This would have been a much more gut-wrenching book if the world had been viewed through Jared's eyes.) I started screencapping the Adobe Digital edition just a few pages in (The publisher, whom I adore for letting me read this ARC through Netgalley, unfortunately did not provide a Kindle option), and I started worrying about my hard drive when I realized just how many quotes I was taking screenshots of.
Kami was accustomed to people thinking she was crazy. "You're crazy," said her best friend, Angela, as the bell rang… "They said that about all the great visionaries," Kami informed her, hurrying down the hall to match Angela's long-legged stride. "You know who else they said it about?" Angela demanded. "All the actual crazy people."
I loved the writing. The tone had a Whedonesque flavor, with sharp kids (and Kami's quite-awesome parents) exchanging clever and witty banter, and all with genuine affection behind it. (Angela: "Your soul is like the souls of a thousand monkeys on crack, all smushed together.")
My new standard for crazy is whether someone has a pet fire extinguisher.
I laughed out loud:
"And we're taking a picture of you being all lord of the manor, outside on the hill. Do you own, like, an old-fashioned white shirt? Because you should wear it, and maybe it should be all wet, as if you were swimming in the lake."
I squeed in Shakespeare-geeky delight:
"Hark," he said, his tone very dry. "What stone through yonder window breaks?"
"Talking like this is very classical of us," Kami suggested. "Think of Pyramus and Thisbe."
She used to tell him she was Rosaline, not Rosalind, and nobody told Rosaline's story.
I went back and savored choice descriptions:
Kami also saw why Holly had called the delinquent Ash's brother. They were alike enough to be brothers, but in this case the fairy-tale prince had been cast into shadow and ruin. Jared literally looked like Ash under a shadow: Ash with a tan, darker blond hair, and dark gray eyes with odd, cold lights in them. Crazy eyes, Holly had said.
Here he was, her oldest and closest friend, and she couldn't help wishing him out of existence.
I rooted for Kami almost to the point of pom-poms:
I found something. And it was horrible, and the only way I know how to deal with something horrible is to do something about it.
And I laughed some more:
"Hi," Kami said to Dorothy, the head librarian…"Can you tell me where I could find the books on Satanism?" Twenty minutes later, she had Dorothy convinced that it was for a school project, and she really did not have to telephone Kami's parents.
In short, I was rendered completely fangirl.
I loved, most of all, the rapidly changing relationship between these old friends who have never met before. They know everything about each other – the fundamentals, at least, since there are some things you just don't talk about even with your invisible best friend – and this means that in many ways they have a great partnership now they've actually met. But … they know everything about each other. This is, shall we say, awkward. Kami laments at one point that all of the language that she can find to use about her connection to Jared leaves the impression that they are soul mates, each other's One True Love … and … that's not what this is. Probably. She doesn't think. No, not at all.
I was a little surprised that the secret behind the bond was revealed as early as it was – but it worked for the plot. That was only background. That was only part of the driving force of the plot.
Then SRB finished me off by creating a big honking painful gut-wrenching cliffhanger at the end. Well, no. A lot of reviews have bewailed the cliffhanger – but it's not, really. There's no one left tied to the railroad tracks with a train coming – it's more like the book was the train and I was tied to the tracks and run over at high speed. There are unresolved issues – but the cliffhanger is more of an emotional one. From a quick shuffle through other reviews it looks as though others who adored the book might have knocked down their rating because of the ending. I can't do that. To me, the fact that the ending left me as torn up as it did is a testament to the quality of the book: it couldn't hurt me if it hadn't made me care to begin with. And, not to get too cryptic and mysterious for those who haven't read it (unless cryptic and mysterious encourages holdouts to read it, in which case I will crypt and myster some more), once I'd picked myself up off the floor I – eventually – realized that this was the only way it could end, given everyone and everything involved.
This, I must point out, doesn't make the wait for Book 2 any less agonizing.
One of the besetting sins of mystery novels, particularly young adult mysteries – and Unspoken has a strong element of mystery – is the driving need for non-professionals to throw themselves into an investigation to "help" the police. It's one of the pillars of the "cozy", the amateur detective. Usually it annoys me, as it takes quite a suspension of disbelief for me to accept that most of these intrepid investigators actually come up with solutions without being either arrested or killed themselves; usually it just makes me want to snarl something at the intrepid investigator about for the pete's sake get out of the way and let people who know what they're doing handle it. But Kami and Jared have the only valid excuse there really is to investigate themselves: Jared is a very, very good suspect. Kami – who after all knows him better than anyone – believes in him. She doesn't know he's innocent, mind – but she does believe it. Almost entirely.
Jared broke my heart completely. His life has been hell; his parents are among the worst I've ever seen in fiction; all he's ever had, his whole short life, has been Kami. And now there she is. More than that I will not say. But he broke my heart.
I almost hesitate to say it, but this was very nearly the perfect book. Bright and sharp and funny and painful. Exhilarating and heart-breaking. I'll repeat the so-pithy comment I left immediately after finishing: Wow.
If the world ends before the second book arrives, I shall be very put out.