Unraveling - Elizabeth Norris Janelle Tenner has your typical teenaged life: FBI father who overworks, alcoholic, manic depressed mother, little brother (a mere 13) that Janelle has to take care of, a nerdy best friend, an evil former friend (of course female) that may or may not have helped get Janelle sexually assaulted. But being hit by a truck, dying, and being revived by stoner, Ben Michaels, changes that. What happened to her? And does it have anything to do with this countdown timer her father discovered?

NOTE: I received this through the Amazon Vine program.

I love to read. I've been reading pretty steadily since I was in second grade, with a brief time where I didn't (that conveniently corresponded to those good 'ol college days). There is nothing quite as wonderful as getting carried away in a new world, populated with vivid characters, being whisked into a new adventure. Were it not for my love of reading, I would never have gotten addicted to my second love: reviewing.

I try to go into the books I read with a positive attitude. That I am going to learn something new, go on a new adventure, meet new best friends. I try to keep my expectations manageable--not too high, but not too low either.

But every so often I meet up with a book that isn't going to be my friend. As I continue to read, I realize we don't have a lot in common. The characters pretend to be book nerdy, but they are hardly shown reading. Characters act in ways that I cannot relate to or act WAY more stupidly than I think they would given their privileged occupation. The plot disappears as the Love Interest ducks his hand under the Main Character's vintage t-shirt. And basic science principles, that could be researched on Google in two seconds, aren't even acknowledged.

Unfortunately, "Unraveling" and I aren't going to be best of friends. We just don't have enough in common.

You see, I can take a main character I don't like. Scarlett O'Hara, from Gone with the Wind, is a woman I would have liked to slap on several occasions; but never once was I not completely and wholeheartedly involved in her story. Janelle Tenner is not Scarlett O'Hara. I wouldn't be surprised if Janelle didn't even know who Scarlett O'Hara was or if she did know, she didn't like the movie.

Janelle and I weren't that way in the beginning of our relationship. In the beginning, I admired her strength and appreciated her responsibility to her family. But as the book progressed, I began to see that maybe I had read Janelle wrong. Maybe she wasn't a strong independent woman, but a self-pitying martyr. Maybe she wasn't a bookworm, but someone that likes to name drop big books ("Ender's Game", "The Great Gatsby") because, hey, why not? Maybe she wasn't smart and nerdy, but a poser--someone who repetitively gloats about how smart they are, but when it comes to showing it, they end up saying things like "The Earth is flat" or "2+2=5". (Or they say things like "Travel through wormholes is impossible-it violates every natural law of physics." No, sweetheart, it doesn't.) Maybe she isn't really a brainiac, but someone that takes advanced classes they apparently don't like (Physics) to show off.

I didn't care for all the trauma in Janelle's life. The absentee father. The alcoholic mother. No grandparents, uncles, aunts, cousins to help her out. The senseless sexual assault scene that does nothing but pad out the novel (it's VERY insulting how Janelle has coped with her sexual assault). Isn't this novel supposed to be about the mysterious Love Interest, Ben Michaels, and the creepy countdown clock? What about her near-death? Isn't that enough trauma for the poor girl? Do we have to touch on every other problem that a teenaged girl might have? Let's give Janelle an eating disorder and shoplifting problem as well!!

I appreciated Janelle's curiosity--but she breaks the laws. Several times. Snooping through her Dad's FBI case files. Stealing his laptop and case files. Copying those files and distributing to her BFF, Alex. Busting onto crime scenes. Handling a gun without a license. STEALING said gun. Hacking into her father's laptop. These are serious crimes. This isn't stealing a pack of gum at 7-11. This is messing with the FBI. I don't care if your father is an agent--you shouldn't be snooping and he shouldn't be letting you. Plus, (and this is something that Janelle brings up and then promptly drops several times), you are a teenager; how can you possibly compare to trained FBI agents?

It was a shame to see how few good, female friends and influences Janelle had. Her best friend, Kate, gave her a roofie laced beer, and now the two teens won't talk. When Kate tries to apologize, it is Janelle who behaves rudely and holier-than-thou--mocking Kate's money (which makes it seem that Janelle is nothing more than a jealous little girl). Cecily's role seems to be to giggle over the cute couple, Janelle and Ben. Nick's ex-girlfriend is cast as a stereotypical Mean Girl. As for adult females, the results are even more dire. Janelle's mother was, as said before, an alcoholic and a manic depressant, a woman so drowned in her own problems, she can't even begin to help Janelle with hers. Deidre, a coworker of Janelle's father, appears very little and isn't a person Janelle confides in. Same with Poblete, Janelle's English teacher. Same with Alex's tyrant mother.

Although men were portrayed in a "better" light, that didn't necessarily mean they were better characters. Janelle's father might not have been portrayed as a jerk, but neglecting his daughter and son is a jerk move. Not doing something about Janelle's mother--another jerk move. It's very hard for me to like a guy that appears, only to act like an idiot (using his daughter's birthday as a code on a safe--sure, I'd believe an esteemed FBI agent would do that!) and drop information so his daughter can steal it and try to "solve the case". And I'm still scratching my head over the incongruity of all the wonderful memories Janelle has of her father and his workaholic tendencies. When did they have time for all the fond memories Janelle has of them? Strutz is a goofy idiot who will let a 16 year old teenager steal a gun and just tell her to "Be safe". Barclay is a stereotypical baddie (though I was impressed at how he changed in the end). Alex is, as I said before, stereotypical Asian nerd.

The two characters I was impressed with were Nick and Ben. For once, our female MC has had experience on the dating scene when she meets her Love Interest. In fact, Janelle is psuedo-dating Nick when she meets Ben. And Nick isn't a bad guy. He is nice and polite when alone with Janelle, but when he is out partying, he becomes reckless and juvenile. And Janelle never decides she "hates" Nick in favor of Ben; she just doesn't think she and Nick mesh. As for Ben, he is pretty darned interesting. I can't tell half of what I find interesting about him, as it occurs in the latter half of the book and is VERY spoilerish, but I will say that he was a good Love Interest and not some abusive dork.

While Janelle and I may not be friends, I can recognize she had good chemistry with Ben. There are quite a few scenes that were very sweet between the two. And while their romance was fairly quick, I did feel like it wasn't exactly insta-love (there were aspects, but Janelle and Ben did try to get to know each other a bit).

I thought maybe I could like the story better. And, to be honest, I did--the first 50 pages and the last 50, that is. The first 50 pages is creepy and haunting; the discovery of the countdown sent shivers down my spine. And then the last 50 pages, where questions get answered and stuff starts happening, were pulse-pounding exciting.

However, in between, it was boring and dull, and the tone completely changed. In the beginning, there is quite a bit of teen drama--"You mean he is dating her?", "Oh, God, my schedule is horrible!" (seriously, this goes on for SEVERAL pages), and the like. But this is abruptly abandoned when Janelle starts learning more about Ben and what her father is investigating. Towards the end, when I want to be on the edge of my seat, the book will break off from the main story and the tension so that Janelle and her brother can go to Disneyland (it was a short scene, but it STILL took away from the main plot) or Janelle and Ben can wake up in her bed after a chaste snuggle.

You know those people whose entire conversation is about what Angelina Jolie was wearing in that movie or the new album they heard? This book was kinda like that person. And it got pretty annoying with all pop culture references. Just to prove I'm not making it up, here is a brief list:

X-Files
Mission Impossible 2
Tron: Legacy
Rebel without a Cause
the new Wall Street movie
The Exorcist
The Mummy
Ender's Game
The Great Gatsby
La Roux's "Bulletproof"
The Electric Church by Jeff Somers
Whole Foods
Firefly
Total Recall
Enemy of the State
The Awakening
Outliers
Star Wars

(May I add that several of these she actually does NOT like and considers "stupid" and "cheesy"?)

I was wondering when Janelle would start talking about how cheesy Star Trek was, or who her favorite Doctor was, or how upset she was that Tom Bombadil was removed from "The Fellowship of the Ring". Norris really should have gotten paid for these; I don't think I've EVER seen so many pop culture references in a book.

And the nerdy part of me obviously got mad at the book in several places (particularly at the end). You see, I am a girl that doesn't like physics; I love physics. So when Janelle made the comment about how impossible traveling through wormholes was, well, I got mad. I did a quick search on Google--and several websites popped up talking about travel through wormholes. This isn't rocket science; I'm not expecting Janelle to know everything. But Ben, a supposedly smart young man, doesn't even correct her; instead, he agrees with her. Along with radiation viruses (really?) and drinks that can tame radiation (huh?), I really hoped that the author did a wee bit more research before plugging in her plot devices.

In the author's defense, I do think that her world was more consistent and believable than I've seen in other books. Places get devastated; people have to run to shelters and desperately look for family and friends. The mechanics of some of the "sciency bits" (which aren't REALLY that sciency, but I'll pretend to be polite) are much more consistent than the time traveling bits in [b:Tempest|11455096|Tempest (Tempest, #1)|Julie Cross|http://d.gr-assets.com/books/1327878364s/11455096.jpg|16065182], for instance. And, as I mentioned above, there were a few characters I liked, some scenes I thought were well done, and the writing was by no means horrible. And one of the absolute best parts of the novel was: it ended. There is no cliffhanger, no "Tune in next time", no silly cheap shot to get audiences to come back for book 2. And in this day of endless series and trilogies, I definitely appreciate THAT. (Though I'll bet my boots--the pair I don't like, of course--that there will be a book 2.)

I think I've gone on long enough to prove my point. It was nice to meet "Unraveling", but I think it's time to go our separate ways. I hope her life is great, that she meets lots of nice people, and gets to experience nice things. I wish her all the best...but I'm glad our little get-together is over. Any longer, and I would have to bring out the lightsaber.


Dialogue/Sexual Situations/Violence:
F-bomb gets quite a workout in a YA title. Some other wandering da**s and he**s.
There is a bit of slut-shaming that goes on. Janelle and Ben make out and share a chaste snuggle.
Janelle's mother is an alcoholic manic depressant. She sometimes hurts herself, requiring Janelle or her father to help her out. Several bodies are found in a melty, gooey state. Janelle dies but is revived. Janelle is also sexually assaulted at a party. A character dies off screen from 3 bullet wounds; another character is shot and hospitalized; San Diego is destroyed and it is said millions are dead.