Title: Unspoken:The Lynburn Legacy I Author: Sarah Rees Brennan I Publisher: Random House
The Young Adult Library Services Association (YALSA) offers the following synopsis for Unspoken: The Lynburn Legacy:
Your imaginary friend turns out to be not so imaginary. Meeting him brings its own mystery and conflicts. Which do you trust more, what you've always known or what you see?
Note to readers - As you can see, we are still working off the YALSA "Best of 2013" list of recommended reading. YALSA's 2014 list of recommended books will be produced at the end of January and we will begin reviewing those more recently published novels at that time. YALSA is the Young Adult division of the American Library Association which is funded by taxpayers for the purpose of assisting local and school libraries in the administration of library science.
Actual Plot Summary: Unspoken: The Lynburn Legacy is book one in a series. It lays the foundation for the novel's young heroine – Kami Glass – to play sleuth in unraveling the mysteries surrounding the shadowy and powerful Lynburn family which oversees the sleepy English town of Sorry-in-the-Vale. After gaining permission from school administrators, Kami and her reluctant best friend (Angela Montgomery) set up a school newspaper and begin investigating some odd happenings that may correspond with the return of the Lynburn family.
Kami is an unusual young lady. For the whole of her seventeen years, she has had an imaginary friend named Jared. Jared talks to Kami in her head and keeps her company throughout her waking day. Naturally, this is socially problematic for her and interferes with her normal relationships as she frequently stares off into space while she concentrates on talking with the boy that no one else can hear.
This is the background information that we have when Ash Lynburn makes his first appearance. Ash is a member of the powerful Lynburn family and is looking to join the paper as a photographer. He is welcomed warmly by Kami and quite rudely by the lovely Angela who is described as model-like and wholly anti-social.
Ash complains about having to help his wayward cousin (who also lives at the Lynburn mansion) get enrolled in school.
School acquaintance, Holly Prescott…the second best looking girl in school so we are told…brings news of a horrific event to Kami's attention. It deals with an animal sacrifice in the woods. Kami decides to go to the public library to research satanic rituals and meets up with Ash's wayward cousin who is – you guessed it – Jared. He's real. He's gruff and antisocial. He and Kami do not hit it off and when they are in close proximity, the event is physically overwhelming. They begin to patch things up after someone tries to kill Kami by pushing her down a well. Over time, they learn to reestablish their relationship and begin to experience deepening feelings for one another.
It takes a while to learn all the details of why there's so much strange activity in the sleepy town of Sorry-in-the-Vale, but it boils down to this: the Lynburns are sorcerers. They control the magic in a town that is filled with sorcery.
Ash's mom (Lillian) is the head of the Lynburn family. The Lynburns killed the family of Ash's dad (Rob…a Lynburn cousin) as punishment for an attempted coup. Ash's dad was brought to the Lynburn mansion to keep him safe. Jared's mom (Rosalind…identical twin of Lillian) loves Ash's dad, but Rob married Ash's mom.
Rosalind forced Kami's mom to participate in a spell that would allow Rosalind to see Rob through her eyes. Rosalind then left town and married an abusive man who was accidentally killed by Jared using magical powers that no one told him he had. Because both Rosalind and Kami's mom were pregnant when the spell was cast, Kami and Jared became psychically connected and Kami became the conduit by which Jared accesses his powers. After a couple of murders and a great deal of intrigue, Rob forces Kami to sever her psychic connection with Jared and then sets out on his own coup attempt. The story ends with Jared coldly dismissing his friendship with Kami and leaving to catch up with his uncle.
This young adult book has earned a Mature Content rating for aberrant behaviors, extreme language, extreme occult and violence. It also receives three and a half stars for story development.
Review: Keeping in mind thatUnspoken: The Lynburn Legacy is written at about sixth to seventh grade reading level and is recommended by the ALA for children between the ages of 12 and 18, this book is not appropriate for children under the age of seventeen. This is because of graphic, albeit occasional violence and inappropriate language…neither of which was absolutely unnecessary to the development of the plot. Also unnecessary to the story is the culturally obligatory lesbian relationship that is apparently required in young adult books as a signal of inclusivity to the YALSA powers that be. The homosexual relationship develops at the end of the story between Angela and Holly. It's there more as an afterthought than a part of the plot development. This gives it a vibe of tokenism which is insulting to the reader no matter what his or her gender preference might be.
Quite aside from all of that, I think that what is more troubling for children to read than graphic violence or overly forced homosexual relationships is the absolute dysfunctionality of adults throughout the book and the mortal danger that their self-absorption brings upon the main characters of the story who are all under the age of eighteen.
Let's begin with Angela Montgomery since we've already briefly touched on that discussion. As previously mentioned, Angela takes on the role of lipstick lesbian for Unspoken: The Lynburn Legacy almost as if it were part of some predetermined specifications directive that all YA books must adhere to if they want to get published.
Aside from Angela's stated gender confusion, she is also rude, frequently unkind and absolutely rudderless. She spends much of her day sleeping or finding ways to sneak a nap into her routine. As two dimensional as the characterization of lazy teen is as a plot device, it sounds to me like Angela might be suffering from symptoms of depression. So you may ask, "Where are her parents in all of this mayhem? Are they the least bit concerned by the behavior issues that Angela exhibits?"
Well, Angela's parents brought her to Sorry-in-the-Vale to get her away from the hustle and bustle of big city living. They then grew so insanely bored by the lack of hustle and bustle in the little village that they returned to the big city without her and left her to be cared for by her older brother.
Apparently the author didn't get the most important of all directives in YA literature which is that homosexuality must be depicted as nature versus nurture. This YA meme would require Angela to be raised by doting and happily married parents who come home at night, join the PTO and make cookies for the church bake sale. Angela would then come out of the closet to the cheers and adulation of her entire extended family. Her parents would praise her for figuring out what they knew from the time she was an infant. Instead we get child abandonment followed by gender confusion. Not the narrative that the media likes to put forth…ah, well. So much for Angela's story.
Then there's Jared in all his taciturn glory. Jared's kind of a thug and there's good reason for it. Jared's mother runs away from Sorry-in-the-Vale with her good-for-nothing abuser of a husband. She doesn't love the man she married. She loves her sister's husband…so much so she's cast a spell on an innocent town's woman so she can keep tabs on him. In doing so, she has attached Jared's psyche to that of the unborn child that the town's woman is carrying. He grows up hearing Kami's voice in his head which would technically be considered schizophrenia for people who are not – you know, sorcerers.
That's just getting started on the horrors of this mother of the year. Rosalind is fully aware that Jared is hearing a voice in his head. She's known it since the days when he slept in a crib. She also guesses that this is somehow connected with the spell that was cast upon the town's woman from Sorry-in-the-Vale.
Does Rosalind mention anything to Jared about the spell she cast in an effort to sooth away any concerns he might have about the stranger in his head? No. She resents him for not paying more attention to her. Does she mention that he comes from a sorcerer bloodline or that he might be finding these powers have been passed along to him? No. She fails to mention to Jared that he might exhibit magical powers. When Jared's powers come to the surface during a fight with his abusive father resulting in his father's death, does Rosalind explain the situation to him and take him emotionally off the hook? No. She blames and resents Jared for the death of her abusive husband.
So this extraordinary thesis on "it's all about me" parenting was brought to your child for the purposes of entertainment? Wow. This really is fun stuff. Wait though, there's more.
Then there's Kami's mom (the reticent town's woman) who is bullied into having a spell placed on her so that Rosalind can spy on her cousin…her sister's husband… Ash's father…because she loves him. This spell – again – affects Kami in utero so that Kami is psychically connected with Jared. She becomes aware of Jared early on. Some of her earliest memories include hearing his voice and feeling his feelings. Kami's mom isn't familiar with the spell that's cast upon her. She doesn't quite make the connection that the spell is linked to her daughter hearing voices in her head…so the natural assumption ought to be that Kami is schizophrenic. I mean, help me out here. Kami is seventeen when the story begins. She's still talking to her imaginary friend. Everyone knows that there's something a little odd about her because she stares off into space for abnormally long intervals leaving uncomfortable silence in her wake. She's seen laughing and talking to herself enough that some people don't want to be her friend.
When the truth of what is happening to her finally comes to light and Kami confronts her mom, do you know what her mom says? Please don't tell your dad.
These are only the strongest examples of adults you don't ever want your children to emulate, but this is not an all-inclusive list by a long shot. Nearly all of the book's characters that might be considered authority figures are warped beyond redemption. So is it any wonder that this book ended up on YALSA's "Best of 2013" list?
To recap, this book is not recommended for children under seventeen. It earns three and a half stars because its characters are written as homage to two dimensional stereotypes that are not only insulting but dull. The story contains elements of sadomasochism and morbidity that are completely overplayed and unacceptable for the entertainment of young minds. It's very much a gothic soap opera which is as intolerable as any you might find on daytime television, and the whole point of the story is to create a hook for book two and that's beyond tacky.
If it's unacceptable to sell children sugary cereal during Saturday morning cartoons then it must be equally intolerable to sell them brain candy during independent reading time at school.