Growing up in love with the imaginary voice in your head is perhaps not a lifestyle most people lead, but for Kami Glass, a half-Japanese, half-British journalism-aficionado and self-proclaimed feminist, sharing her inner thoughts, deepest feelings, and even her heart with Jared, the imaginary boy in her head, has been apart of her life for as long as she can remember. While in the midst of typical high school girl activities (meeting a cute new boy, founding the school newspaper, discovering ritualistic animal murders in the woods of her quiet town) Kami learns that the Lynburns, one of her town’s oldest families, is moving back to their long-abandoned manor—and among them is Jared himself. Her “imaginary friend” thus reveals himself to be a very real boy she has never met but has possessed a mental connection with since birth. Along with her friends Holly, Angela, Jared’s cousin Ash, Kami and Jared employ their telepathy to solve the ever escalating town murders, as well as the secrets of Jared’s family and what those secrets have to do with his and Kami’s strange connection.
With a plot like this, it’s not surprising why I was eager to read this book. Amid the thousands of novels I’d come across in this genre, where supernatural elements are overdone and campy, where the realistic elements are trite and boring, where the romance is cheesy and predictable, Unspoken appeared as a beacon of light in a dark literary world.
Though the book managed to raise my expectations, it failed to completely deliver and, by the end, left me thoroughly unsatisfied. While I must give kudos to the general plot for being somewhat original and intriguing enough for me to maintain more than zero interest in the book, the book as a whole was often bogged down by its awkward pacing, confusing prose, and an inability to make me care about the world, a majority of the characters, or any of the central conflicts.
It starts off well enough—we’re introduced to the smart, clever, driven Kami as she ropes her best friend Angela into joining the newspaper club with her. We’re given a taste of her relationship with Jared, enough to make the reader curious, and then Kami goes to investigate a dead fox found in a hut in the woods. It’s a simple yet well-crafted enough setup to incite curiosity about the characters and what’s to come for them. Then Jared, the real Jared, enters the scene, and the story suddenly accelerates much too fast and all at once.
Kami and Jared, for whatever reason, react strangely to being physically present with one another—they can barely look each other in the eye or touch without feeling what I can only describe as something close to vertigo: “Kami’s whole body recoiled…her vision blurry…the world was shaking her.” I will never understand this reaction, nor will I understand it every other time it occurs in the book, which is more or less every single moment the two interact, to the point where I find myself skimming through the words quickly whenever I see them. So many paragraphs are dedicated to describing how weird it feels for them to be around each other so that the other events in the story—the murders, the Lynburn secret, and even a realistic, genuine development of Jared and Kami’s relationship—take a backseat. The unnecessarily consistent attention drawn to Kami and Jared’s bizarre relationship forces the story to speed through everything else just to make room for it. The book never dwells enough on any other conflicts or revelations, and all such events are all so untidily shoved into the story wherever they fit in that, by the time we get to the big reveal and all questions are answered, they come off as too convenient, random, or unbelievable for me to muster excitement about any of them.
It’s also increasingly difficult to maintain interest in the story when the prose is consistently confusing to read. Over the course of this book, I ran across too many unnecessary or long sentences, vague metaphors, imagery that makes little sense, misplaced modifiers, and anecdotes that, if meant to reveal character, do so at inopportune moments. For a book written in rather plain language, it was amazing the number of times I had to read a sentence several times before I could hopefully understand what it was saying. It’s a shame, however, because Brennan does clearly strive to write cleverly and wittily, and could perhaps achieve that were the prose not so muddled.
The characters might have been able to save their own story if anyone outside of Kami and Jared had been developed beyond their physical appearances, their gimmicks, and their roles as plot devices. Angela, though I appreciate the comedic element her character provides, does little else besides follow Kami around and make snide remarks about everything until she is eventually kidnapped and needs to be saved. She’s also described as having “a perfect body…a perfect face…her makeup always flawless” and every other time she does anything, the narrator takes care to mention her beauty in some way. Every beautiful character gets this same treatment—and there are a lot of beautiful characters in this book. Jared’s cousin Ash Lynburn, for example, can likewise be described as a handsome British boy, and that’s about all I can tell you.
The most redeeming quality to me is the subtly eluded subplot concerning Angela. Deemed the most attractive girl in school and yet without any interest in the boys fawning over her, she eventually proves she has literally has no interest in boys. It’s commendable enough that Brennan made the character a lesbian, but the development of Angla’s crush on Holly all up until she finally kisses her is more compelling to me than the main romance.
Other than that, I must say: I had high hopes when picking up this book, and as I pushed through it, I kept hoping it would redeem itself. Unable to look past any of my issues with it, I must unfortunately admit that while the plot appeared decent, its execution could definitely use a lot of work.