Unraveling by Elizabeth Norris

Two out of five dragons

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First let’s talk about the writing in Unraveling. It really wasn’t that bad which paired with a not-complete-drivel storyline is why this book gets two stars. There could have definitely been better prose and more imaginative lines, but overall the writing was passable.

It was great that the author let Janelle have a bf at the beginning of the story. I hate when YA does the trope of a girl that’s never had a boyfriend, but every guy wants her suddenly realizes blah blah blah. Teenagers date. It doesn’t make their relationships pointless just because it doesn’t lead to marriage. Also Norris gave a more nuanced view of the jock. There are two tropes that normally come with this: one, the jock is totally stupid or two, the jock is secretly really deep so you should ignore how dumb he acts the other 90% of the time. Neither was done here. So that was good. However, most everything else was a dumpster fire.

*sort of spoiler*

Let’s begin with how Janelle seems completely oblivious to who the bad guy might be. She ignores some huge hints and just keeps shrugging like “oh who could it be?” Gee Janelle I’ll give you a hint, but you’ll probably ignore that too.


The author used the dad’s death as a plot-mover and it made him feel like a prop. She’s just going along stumbling through her investigation and then suddenly (and not a good suddenly, more like an “I ran out of ideas so I guess I’ll kill the dad” suddenly) he gets wiped out. Her grief didn’t feel real. It was clear the author was striving for a nuanced relationship that led naturally to nuanced grief, but it was more confusing than anything else. I don’t like it when anyone’s death is used as a plot pusher. This is only acceptable, and only marginally acceptable at that, in hollywood revenge films.

*end of spoiler*

The Bipolar mom. This is also a trope which is fine sort of, but not well executed in this. Here I need to be honest. My mom is Bipolar and so am I. When I was young I was fascinated the first time I read a book with a Bipolar mom and I felt like I understood the book and my mother and myself better, but as I get older it just hurts to read these books that have Bipolar people used as props to push forward the story and make you feel sorry for the MC. While many portrayals are done with enough accuracy to make it acceptable in a story this was not one of those cases.

I’m annoyed especially in this case because this is probably the fourth book I’ve read with a Bipolar mom, but it was the least well done. If it is well done like in Deadline by Chris Crutcher I can accept it even when it grates a little. However, Norris made it seem like all Bipolar people are awful and uncontrollable and yet that they should somehow control themselves. There is actually a point in the book when Janelle is angry at her mother for *not trying hard enough.* Yes, this could be the author showing a natural reaction for the children of people with Bipolar disorder, but there was a better way to do it.

I will admit that the story line was entertaining. I wish there had been a lot more investigation and figuring things out rather than one crazy thing happens early on and then forty to fifty percent of the book is “man high school is hard” then back to actual story. The explanation was original and well-thought out, but getting there was a bit of a drag.

I’d recommend it for people who don’t care much about prose and enjoy a simple, but original story.

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