Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Book Review: The Unquiet

As I read, I kept waiting for The Unquiet to improve. It has an interesting premise and an engaging narrator. But issues with plot, characterization and plausibility torpedo the novel. The Unquiet’s central theme of the ghost seeking vengeance is very common in both YA and adult literature. It’s common because we as readers enjoy experiencing it over and over again. But it's employed predictably and without sufficient logic, the ubiquity of the trope makes the book that much more disappointing.

Rinn, who suffers from bipolar disorder, and her mother move back to her mother’s hometown in small town Ohio.  They are dealing with the destruction that her illness has wrought in the lives of her and her family. Almost immediately, Rinn is embroiled in the mystery of Anneliese, a ghost who supposedly haunts a “tunnel” like hallway that connects a half-built pool to the rest of the high school school. There are some areas where the novel succeeds. The Unquiet is an interesting exploration of a teen struggling with bipolar disorder,  yet at times the descriptions of her manic episodes feel too generic. The depiction of Rinn’s relationships with her family members is the greatest strength of the novel. 

One of the main problems with The Unquiet is that underdeveloped characterization prevents the reader from caring about what the evil ghost does. We don’t develop enough of a connection to the new friends that Rinn’s made in Ohio to really care when the ghost starts to punish them. Similarly, the “instalove” romance that erupts overnight between Rinn and Nate, the boy across the street, doesn’t feel like it’s founded on anything more than a running gag about Rinn being a city girl and Nate being a country boy. However, Rinn has moved from L.A. to a small town in Ohio. Both Rinn and Nate act as though they’re in an isolated spot in Montana or Idaho. They’re not even in Iowa! Ohio just doesn’t fit the bill as the setting for a truly country bumpkin town. Minus the plausibility of the subject of the constant teasing between the two, the relationship feels completely random.

Garsee states in an author’s note at the end of the novel that her inspiration came from a real life “tunnel” at her school that was believed to be haunted. Garsee’s genuine attachment to this element of the novel is clear, but the underdeveloped plot feels like window dressing designed to enable the author to write about the tunnel. The final revelations of the ghost’s motivation in harming the teenagers of River Hills High School and Rinn’s ability to banish the ghost aren’t very logical. Without giving away too much of the plot, I was left feeling that Rinn beat the ghost because she was the main character, and that’s who's supposed to save the day. Needless to say, that’s not a great ending.

It's easy to find examples of recent, better written YA novels that I would direct fans of the ghost seeking vengeance theme to first. Anna Dressed in Blood is a much more satisfying read. Laura Whitcomb’s A Certain Slant of Light, while a totally different take on teenage ghosts, is another great book. But those who can't read enough books in this particular vein will still find some enjoyment in this book, as the appeal of the narrator helps smooth over the problematic spots in the book until the inadequate ending . For everyone else, I'd classify The Unquiet as a bench warmer, an adequate back-up for when you must read something but don’t have anything better at hand.

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