Goodreads | IndieBound | Barnes & Noble
YA, Contemporary, 304 pages, Simon Pulse
- Series: stand-alone
- Pub date: January 3rd 2012
- Disclosure: Received an ARC from the Red Balloon Bookstore. Thanks!
Isobel’s life is falling apart. Her mom just married some guy she met on the internet only three months before, and is moving them to his sprawling, gothic mansion off the coast of nowhere. Goodbye, best friend. Goodbye, social life. Hello, icky new stepfather, crunchy granola town, and unbelievably good-looking, officially off-limits stepbrother.The Long...
But on her first night in her new home, Isobel starts to fear that it isn’t only her life that’s unraveling—her sanity might be giving way too. Because either Isobel is losing her mind, just like her artist father did before her, or she’s seeing ghosts. Either way, Isobel’s fast on her way to being the talk of the town for all the wrong reasons.
Let's just say I was on an ARC binge. This book was my rebound, coming off a few literary heartbreaks. This book was going to be the one. I'd heard good things. I was going to love it. And hey, it did start out pretty awesome.
And then it all went sour.
Maybe it was the mansion. I don't know about you guys, but a teen girl on the poverty line who is suddenly "forced" to live in a mansion and spends the whole time complaining about it doesn't quite ring true to me. Maybe it was the stepbrother thing. Because, as someone who would like to think she is open to love in all circumstances but also lives in a blended family? Step-sibling romances are just icky. And then we had the ghost story, which is difficult to pull off in humorous YA at the best of times, but in a novel already laden with cynicism and bitterness, it felt like the cherry on top of a very off-tasting sundae.
The worst part, though, for me, was Isobel's voice. It's been a long time since I've read a teen character I truly could not sympathize with at all, but Isobel fit the bill: whiny, a little silly, moody, and generally insufferable. The problem wasn't that Cook didn't hit the mark with a "genuine" teenage voice; the problem was that she hit that mark too well, and that it turns out "real" teen characters are pretty ridiculous to read about. I don't want real life with my ghost story, I want just a touch nobler than real life, and Isobel just didn't make the cut.
What makes me feel especially bad for not loving it was that Unraveling Isobel features one of my favorite plot points in YA: mental illness. Depression, bipolar, schizophrenia, and the rest of the psychological smorgasbord that's out there are things teens have to deal with maybe even more than adults--partially because many mental illnesses onset in your teens, partially because we're still figuring out who we are brain chemistry or no brain chemistry--and I was hopeful when this book introduced a schizophrenic dad and a fear of following in his footsteps in Isobel. In the end, though, this book was just too muddled to make it work, and I was left more disappointed than ever.
It's rare that I say a book has just too much going on for it, but that was certainly the case here. A darkly humorous sexy incestuous murder mystery ghost story might work in theory, but in practice it's just a mess.
...and the Short:
An overwrought concept that almost works, but in the end falls flat, despite a few genuinely sweet and funny moments.
The Final Word: Meh.