Review: Unspoken

Unspoken by Sarah Rees Brennan. Book 1 of the Lynburn Legacy. Random House. 2012. Review copy from publisher.

The Plot: Kami Glass has plans and dreams. The plan: investigative reporting! Even if in her small town of Sorry-in-the-Vale nothing much seems to happen. She manages to get her school to agree to start a school paper and drafts her best friend, Angela, to help. As for dreams, well, does her invisible friend/voice in her head, Jared, count? She’s learned to be careful about letting people know about him, but, still, he’s there, a constant companion and friend.

Plans and dreams unexpectedly collide when the Lynburn family returns after decades away. Kami is convinced there has to be a story behind the Lynburns; after all, they and the village go back over six hundred years. The Lynburns return to their mansion overlooking the town? Terrific story potential!

Kami discovers more than she bargained for when she begins to look into the Lynburns, into the teenage son named Jared, and into her village’s past. It’s not that the town has no secrets; it’s that they have been unspoken for so long.

The Good: Deep breath in; deep breath out. Deep breath in; deep breath out. Relax. Count to ten.

Nope, still not calm enough to talk about this book. WOW. WOW. LOVE. LOVE. AWESOME. AMAZING. WAIT, WHAT? WOW. LOVE. THAT ENDING.

Let’s try that again.

Unspoken begins with a report by Kami, “The Return of the Lynburns,” and it does two things: provide needed background information to the reader, and establish Kami’s own character and voice. Example: “Which leaves us with a town in the Cotswolds that has a lot of wool and no secrets. Which is ridiculous.” and “Six hundred years do not go by without someone doing something nefarious.” As Kami looks over what she wrote, she thinks that “a serious journalist should probably not make so many jokes, but whenever Kami sat down to the computer it was as if the jokes were already there, hiding behind the keys, waiting to spring out at her.” Later on, when she’s corralled her group of friends into doing something that perhaps requires a second or third thought, “she did not let her steps slow. Kami had found it was important not to give people time to say, “wait, is this really a good idea?””

As I reread those first few pages, I realize something else: Brennan is telling you what will happen. Nefarious things did happen; they will again. Be prepared. Oh , be lighthearted, have fun, but there will be violence and death and bad things and difficult choices. While this is a book about the supernatural and magic (not spoilers! in the catalog description and book jacket!), it is also a mystery. The mystery of the village, and of the Lynburns; the mystery of Jared; but there are also some violent acts, including a murder. Here’s the thing about a murder mystery: in books, they are much easier to solve than in real life because all the characters are set out for you. It has to be one of the people in the pages. This means it can be easy to guess the killer. I just have to share — that did not happen with Unspoken. While I won’t hold guessing something like this against a book, it makes me quite happy when I don’t figure it out.

So, terrific: Kami’s voice; the humor; the plotting, setting. Also: the cast of characters and their diversity. Take Kami herself: yes, this is set in England and part of her family, like most of the villagers in Sorry-in-the-Vale, goes back hundreds of years. Except. Kami’s grandmother was Japanese; she met and married Kami’s grandfather in Japan, returned to England for a quick trip, her husband died and the grandmother decided to raise her son, Kami’s father, in Sorry-in-the-Vale. Kami, her parents and two younger brothers, live in the house that has been in the Glass family for generations. Kami’s ancestry is more than “just” including diversity. It also matters to the story. Part of the reason Kami is unaware of the secrets her village holds is because of her grandmother’s outsider status and own lack of knowledge. It’s no coincidence that Kami’s best friend is another outsider, Angela, whose family moved to the village six years before and so has no link to the village history.

If I listed all the things I loved about Unspoken, this review would be almost as long as the book itself. Kami’s parents! The Lynburns! The cousins Ash and Jared! The reveals! The twists! So many funny lines! The romances!

Unspoken is the first book in The Lynburn Legacy, so, yes, it doesn’t “end” at the end. Given how much I adore the world Unspoken has created, and Kami and her friends, it’s quite happy making to know that I get to revisit them. Unspoken delivered on what it promised: that is, the mysteries about Sorry-in-the-Vale, Jared, Kami’s imaginary friend, the Lynburns, and, yes, that murder, are all revealed. But, it’s never that easy, is it? Getting answers leads to more questions. Solving some problems creates others. Learning the truth about one’s world changes what one thinks they knew. And, of course — one cannot uncover the truth about one’s village and then say, “oh, OK, that’s all I needed, thanks, I’ll return to my safe room now!”. Especially when that person is Kami Glass.

Needless to say, in case WOW. WOW. LOVE. LOVE. AWESOME. AMAZING. WAIT, WHAT? WOW. LOVE. THAT ENDING. wasn’t a clue, this is a Favorite Book Read in 2012.

Other reviews: Leila Roy of Bookshelves of Doom at Kirkus.


15 thoughts on “Review: Unspoken

  1. For a minute there, I sighed and cursed you a little for adding yet another book to my TBR pile. Then, I looked at the pile of books I checked out yesterday, and realized that Unspoken is already in it. You’re off the hook! Maybe I’ll bump it up to the top, though….


  2. Melissa & bibliovore, I know!!

    Lisa, you are fated to read it!

    Jen & Stacy, you won’t regret it. I guarantee it. (Not sure how I can back that guarantee….)


  3. Read it. Ditto. Near speechless. All the perfect bits and pieces of Barbara Michaels, Mary Stewart (Touch Not the Cat), and The China Garden. Love.


  4. I read this as an e-galley at least three times. What I particularly loved (apart from everything) is Kami’s voice and Angela’s voice (LOVE Angela.) Sarah Rees Brennan does teen snark so WELL!


  5. Lisa, YES, The China Garden, perfect!

    Alison, adored Angela. Yes, the snark was perfect.

    I will now share the quick description I have for this that I was afraid was either too spoilery or gave the wrong impression — Veronica Mars meets The Wicker Man — when I read an interview at the Book Smugglers with the author, she said Veronica Mars meets Hot Fuzz I felt “yes!” because one of the films Hot Fuzz references is The Wicker Man.



  6. The only teensy-tiny complaint I could possibly come up with is having Kami be considered so exotic-looking. My nephew has a Japanese grandfather, and he looks 100% Anglo, as do all his cousins. My brother-in-law barely looks mixed race (although his mother is a blond German so I suppose that compensates?). I also have a friend who is half-Chinese, half-Caucasian, and you might wonder vaguely about his ethnicity, but it’s not obvious. I can’t imagine his future kids looking very Asian at all. Obviously this is a minute statistical sample, but it stopped me in my tracks when he called her a creepy Asian girl.


  7. Lisa, I think the author touched on this a bit with the descriptions of the brothers, to show that they 3 siblings each looked a bit different, more/less Japanese. Added to it that this is a small, provinicial town with most people going back centuries and so they all “know” she is part Japanese — I’d have to look up the quote but I think that was equally tagging her outsider status.


  8. I figured that the townies thought of her in that way because family history trumps all; she would have internalized it and thought of herself like that, too, I suspect. It was mostly the elevator scene and her being called creepy Asian girl in the moment. That was strictly a visual assessment because he didn’t know her from Adam at that point.


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