For today’s Read-n-Feed, I’m featuring a novel by an author who cracked me up two years in a row at YALLFest:
Category: Young Adult
Genre(s): Gothic mystery/fantasy
Publisher: Random House Books for Young Readers (2012)
Kami Glass is in love with someone she's never met—a boy she's talked to in her head since she was born. This has made her an outsider in the sleepy English town of Sorry-in-the-Vale, but she has learned ways to turn that to her advantage. Her life seems to be in order, until disturbing events begin to occur. There has been screaming in the woods and the manor overlooking the town has lit up for the first time in 10 years. . . . The Lynburn family, who ruled the town a generation ago and who all left without warning, have returned. Now Kami can see that the town she has known and loved all her life is hiding a multitude of secrets—and a murderer. The key to it all just might be the boy in her head. The boy she thought was imaginary is real, and definitely and deliciously dangerous.
I saw Sarah Rees Brennan speak on the History & Mystery panel, and (like last year
) she was also the judge of the YA Smackdown. And she was hilarious. I knew anyone able to fire off zingers on the spot with an entire auditorium staring at her would be especially funny on the page with plenty of time to ponder each word. Turns out Unspoken
wasn’t just funny, it was witty and clever, with dialog that had me leaning closer to the page with a smile on my face anticipating what the characters would say next.
I honestly think Unspoken should be on every aspiring YA writer’s list of books to read to see “the craft” in action. First of all, Sarah created a fascinating protagonist in Kami, and any teen who looks up to Bella Swan should be tied down and forced to read this book. Kami is independent and brave, but not in an obnoxious, eye-roll-worthy way. While Kami is in a “love triangle” (with the potential for more shapes to emerge), she doesn’t exist solely to be a point in a geometric figure. She’s more interested in her future as a journalist and solving a mystery than picking a boy. And through all the craziness, she maintains her sense of fun, so she’s not a dour character to hang out with (waves at Katniss).
With so much focus on creating such a dynamic protagonist, it would have been easy to let the secondary characters slide through the cracks. But Sarah brings the rest of the characters to life in interesting and quirky ways. Kami’s friends and family are so fully realized, they could each waltz off into his/her own starring role in another novel. They aren’t there just to drive plot points - they help make the entire world feel real. Which made it that much worse when book one came to a jarring end, leaving me howling for the release of the book two, which is still too far away.
I guess it’s obvious I’m a big fan of Unspoken, but it really hit my sweet spot: a mystery/thriller with angsty romance and lots of humor. In fact, that’s how I describe my own WIP, except mine doesn’t have the supernatural elements like Unspoken. One of my love interests even has a scar on his face, like one of Kami’s love interests, although now I think I’m going to de-scar my guy since Sarah has already done it so well. And as I circle in on finishing this (hopefully!) last major rewrite of my WIP, I’ll definitely use Sarah's writing as inspiration for making sure ALL my characters are three dimensional and compelling.
If you’ve read Unspoken, what did you think? Do you make sure your secondary characters are as dymamic as your protagonist? What books have you read that inspired how you write your characters?