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Review: Unravelling by Elizabeth Norris

Series: Unravelling #1
Release date: June 2012
Publisher: Harpercollin's Children's Books
Pages: 445
Source: Berkelouw Books
Rating: 
STOP THE COUNTDOWN. SAVE THE WORLD…

Leaving the beach, seventeen-year-old Janelle Tenner is hit head on by a pickup truck.

And killed.

Then Ben Michaels, resident stoner, is leaning over her. And even though it isn’t possible, she knows Ben somehow brought her back to life…

Meanwhile, Janelle’s father, a special agent for the FBI, starts working on a case that seems strangely connected to Ben. Digging in his files, Janelle finds a mysterious device – one that seems to be counting down to something that will happen in 23 days and 10 hours time.

That something? It might just be the end of the world. And if Janelle wants to stop it, she’s going to need to uncover Ben’s secrets – and keep from falling in love with him in the process…

It's described as 24 meets X-Files and as a blockbuster, but that is seriously underestimating the sheer awesomesauce of this debut from Elizabeth Norris. Andrea Cremer is a little closer, likening it to if Veronica Mars snatched a case from Mulder and Scully. The thing is this: from the synopsis, this doesn't really seem like a scifi, but it actually, brilliantly is. It's also a little pre-apocalyptic, I suppose. Norris expertly immerses you into a character that lets you see the "offness" of the goings on around her and concerning her, which escalates and grows in an addictive way until BAM - scifi glory and bamf.

Norris finds a perfect mesh of internal and external conflict, and a voice in our protagonist, Janelle, that is intelligent, passionate and resonating. Her inner strength, her loyalty and preoccupation with her family - the connections and characterisation we experience through Janelle makes the fluctuations of Joss-Whedon-kill-your-darlings really effective (and tearjerking).

I read the last 250+ pages after midnight - I thought I was going to do a couple chapters, but when this books kicks on the turn, it kicks. It is intense. Like, intense. The plot line is gripping, there is an absence of a love triangle, and an act of logic and selflessness to close. It's easy to engage with Janelle, and for once, there was a proper and respectable use of "fuck" that effectively characterised a supporting character.

While at times, the dialogue is corny and a bit repetitive, and the pop culture references a little on the shallow side, the book is fast-paced and captures the breathlessness of a teenager trying to make sense of a world crumbling around them, literally and figuratively. And there are a few red herrings, which I always applaud, because despite the formulaic twists and structure of Unravelling, there was a final turn at the climax that got me.

Overall, Norris has an understated, flowing style of writing that captures you, even if you've put the book down for a day. For authors looking to see examples of well-paced YA with innovative strands of science fiction/action/fantasy/thriller/whatever, this is a must-read. And honestly, I'm just generally recommending this one.

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