Unmade (The Lynburn Legacy #3)By Sarah Rees Brennan
In Unspoken and Untold, Kami, intrepid reporter hooks her best friend Angela and Holly, a girl who is more popular with the boys than with the girls, into starting a newspaper for their school. Her first story is to cover the old, abandoned manor house because the Lynburns, the family who abandoned it, is returning. She soon lands an interview with Ash, who literally walks into the newspaper office looking for a job as a photographer. Under this coming-home story, another, sinister story unfolds: a series of animal killings have taken place in the woods surrounding the village. These animal killings soon become a real danger for the townsfolk in general and Kami in particular. On top of all of this, Kami’s imaginary friend from her childhood turns out to be real: a voice in her head, who knows all of her secrets, is a real person walking and talking to everyone she knows. Not only that, Jared, the voice in her head, is Ash’s cousin…a Lynburn.
What follows is a tale grown of power and blood, sorcery and friendship, life and death. At the start of Unmade, Rob Lynburn has wrested power and control over the Lynburn manor, and he effectively runs the whole town through terror. Kami, ripped from her connection with Jared is now connected with his half-brother/cousin Ash. No one is quite comfortable with the setup. The village turns into a battleground on more than one occasion. Casualties are high. Welcome to post-Battle of Hogwarts-children’s lit. Where entire litscapes are changed and no one comes out unscathed.
Now let’s talk about why this series is important. First, the characters. This book doesn’t buy into the myth that all high school age girls are catty and competitive, and doesn’t think that you should either. If the plot sounds similar to Beautiful Creatures, that’s because it is. But it’s missing all the problematic elements that made Beautiful Creatures so cringeworthy. Sure, the romantic relationships get much of the focus on this book, but Brennan is a sneak. She spotlights the romance only because the foundational friendships are so solid. And characters who aim to transform their friendships into romances give serious consideration to how those romances will affect their friendships. It’s almost as if Brennan trusts that young people can make meaningful decisions using consideration and thought. Imagine that. Jared has some weird ideas of personhood and ownership, but then he turns around and is really considerate of space and complexity. Angela is just an angry girl who deserves to be angry. Brennan makes no judgements on Angela’s anger, and neither should we. I’m crying even thinking about it. Holly has so much heart that she could be an organ donor ten times over.
Second, the mature situations. In Untold, Kami tells Jared: “consent is sexy.” Little did we know Brennan was making us a promise. Good for you, Sarah Rees Brennan. (And good for us. Serious. It’s hot.) Unfortunately, that leads to the one dark spot on this wonderful narrative. Ash’s sexual assault appears to be written to be the opposite of Jared’s actions when he asks for consent. Sarah, that scene was strong enough on its own! Ash and Jared have been set up as the dark-light opposites for two books already, but it’s been done in such subtle ways; this was a subtle as a bus. This is hugely problematic because it doesn’t focus on Kami as a survivor, only on Ash as being the opposite of Jared. Ash’s own agency has been removed and his actions serve the purpose of the symbolism, not believable motivations according to an established emotional and mental pattern. It’s bizarre and uncomfortable and glaringly out of place. I’m sorry that I have to spend so much time focusing on it on this review.
Third, the jokes! I have seen more than a bit of criticism about the amount of humor in this book. That the jokes are out of place in such a dark narrative. But using humor as a coping mechanism is not all that uncommon. These characters, Kami particularly, know that if they can’t laugh, the will very likely kill each other. Rob has them up against the wall, and they need to be strong. They need to stick together, so Kami laughs. Kami is a young woman who values her voice over almost anything. Laughing is fighting for Kami. Laughter is her armor and her weapon.
This series is funny, smart, magical, powerful, and filled with so much love. Kami and her ilk are the friends I always wanted, and now have, thanks to Sarah Rees Brennan. Goodbye, Sorry-in-the-Vale; you were awesome. Time to take a page out of Angela’s book–of naps.
You can pick up a copy of Unmade by Sarah Rees Brennan at your local independent bookseller or library on September 23! Here’s one!