Author: Cat Clarke
The plot is something else. I read this line – “Jem Halliday is in love with her gay best friend. Not exactly ideal, but she’s learning to live with it.” – and I thought:
Then I read on – “Then the unspeakable happens. Kai is outed online …and he kills himself. Jem knows nothing she can say or do will bring him back. But she wants to know who was responsible. And she wants to take them down.” And then I was like:
And 100 pages in:
I was roped in. It was something different and I feel like 2014-2015 will be the year where the spotlight will be on realistic YA books by which I mean that illness, suicide, pregnancy, teenage angst (etc.) will be prevalent over paranormal stories. Not to say that paranormal stories don’t deal with these issues. I just feel like The Fault in Our Stars, Trouble and 13 Reasons Why and similar books have opened up the door for stories that teenagers (and wannabe teenagers like me) can relate to. I love the plot. It moved along nicely. There’s no swordfights or explosions if that’s what you’re expecting but it’s a beautifully, dark story and I loved every minute of it. The only thing that bugged me was Bugs’ revenge. It felt too much like a frat-party prank rather than revenge. It didn’t have the power and effect that Lucas’ and Stu’s revenge carried. If Lucas had an equal part in the act in Jem’s eyes, which she believes he does, then something more crushing needs to happen to Bugs.
I loved the narration though I feel as though Clarke could have reinforced the fact that it was a letter throughout the novel in the same way Stephen Chbosky does in The Perks of Being a Wallflower or Annabel Pitcher in Ketchup Clouds. Clarke straddles the line between a dark Jem and a flippant Jem at times and while I think she succeeds, there are times where we tend to forget how disturbed and dark she is; how determined she is to die. Kai’s letters are uplifting and show how Jem, even as she decides she wants to die, mimics her best friend’s letter-writing – if maybe only to be closer to him.
I like Jem. I don’t find her whiny. I understand her pain and in the last 30 or so pages, I found it difficult to breathe. That’s right, Cat Clarke. If you’re reading this, you very nearly killed a reader. Disclaimer much? I felt every moment of Jem’s pain, every second of Kai’s pain in his letters. But Kai’s voice in the letters really gives you something to look forward to and tugs at your heart strings. I would like to know more about who Jem is rather than knowing things about her like how she looked and that. I mean, in the first scene, we get a sense of a younger Jem but for the rest of the novel, she’s losing herself – who she is – but the “self” hasn’t been fully established. I liked the rest of the cast but Jem (and Kai from the grave) really do rule the show.
Quality of Writing:
The writing is powerful but rather than go on and on, I’ll pick out some examples:
- “Everyone thought that things were getting back to normal. They had no idea that normal didn’t exist for me any more. Normal had been smashed on the rocks beneath the bridge.”
- “I know people think suicide is selfish, and maybe sometimes it really is. But what happened to Kai was beyond what anyone should have to cope with. I didn’t blame him, not really. It just broke my heart that I wasn’t enough to keep him here.”
I had no issues with the setting. I knew where I was. There was adequate description without being overloaded with pages of tedious scene-setting.
I quite enjoyed the voice and the premise though the narration could have been more distinct. I think Jay Asher nails it in 13 Reasons Why when he uses the tapes to get Hannah’s voice across and we get to see how Clay was and how he is as the tapes start to affect him. I think both books have pros and cons but Undone is a story worth reading and raises awareness about an important issue while also telling us a plot-driven story of revenge. Chbosky and Pitcher, as I’ve already said, have stronger narrative structures with the letter format. And yes, while Clarke’s characters aren’t the strongest characters I’ve ever read about in a YA novel, they serve their purpose and when you read, you can look over certain details once the story is good. And baby, is it good!
Books You May Also Like:
13 Reasons Why by Jay Asher – deals with suicide and the story is told in part, through tapes, which give it and eerily creative effect
Looking for Alaska by John Green – for another story that raises the question of suicide and explores a character who suffers from depression
Torn by Cat Clarke – for another story with guilt, lies and revenge