Book Review: “Unbreakable”

My life has become infinitely more complicated. Why? Because it’s October in Salem. Gone are the days of going out to dinner, hopping down the streets with my boyfriend, paw-in-hand, and leaving the apartment in the morning with ten minutes to spare and still getting to work (mostly) on time. Now, everything is insanity. Waiting for a table? Insanity. Trying to walk down the cobblestone roads without assuming the single-file position? Insanity. Driving anywhere and expecting to get there on time? You guessed it. Insanity. Insanity topped with a witch hat.

You may think that the Halloween spirit would be ruined for me, what with all the inconveniences the holiday brings. But you’d be wrong. I still love me some Halloween. I love the crisp, fall air (before Winter’s death sentence blows in); I love the smell of cinnamon wafting on the breeze (when it’s not overpowered by the scents of patchouli and incense pouring out of every storefront); I love the riot of colors reaching from the treetops toward the sky (as if the leaves are pleading with the heavens to spare them, and to spare us the coming season’s eternal gray). I love that folklore and mythology take center stage (for that’s an environment in which a shapeshifting fey like myself can truly thrive). My only regret is that my big ears render a lot of costume choices impossible. They don’t lend themselves to hats – or to other ears – and fur isn’t exactly the best canvas on which to apply transformative make-up. It’s cool, though. Bunnies are spooky enough. Just ask Anya.

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bunnies

…”What’s with all the carrots? And what do they need such good eyesight for anyway?”

What, indeed? Chew on that.

I, myself, am immune to the horrors of leporiphobia, however. To get my chills, I need to go to more traditional sources – like the malevolent undead. Fortunately, that’s what Kami Garcia’s new book, Unbreakable, is all about!

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Title: Unbreakable (The Legion: Book 1)
Author: Kami Garcia
Genre: Young Adult (not for 12 year olds, as Amazon suggests!)
(Supernatural Romance/Horror)
Publisher: Little Brown Books for Young Readers
Publication Date: October 01, 2013
Hardcover: 305 pages
Is There a Pooka in This Book?: No. We like to stay as far away from possessed cats (all cats?), flying pointy objects, and ghostly children dragging headless dolls around as possible. But we like reading about them from the comfort and safety of our own homes!

Unbreakable is Kami Garcia’s first solo novel (she co-authored the Beautiful Creatures series with Margaret Stohl), and I’ve been on the library’s waiting list to get it forever and ever. I requested it as soon as I heard it was coming out and as soon as there was a record to attach my request to, making me first in a line of … oh, okay. I just checked. There are only other 2 people who have the book on hold right now. That was unexpected. I guess I thought my excitement was universal! Anyway, I’ve been waiting for this book for a long time. I loved Beautiful Creatures so hard, and I’m really interested in the process of co-authoring and how it works. I want to know, unfairly maybe, whose writing I like better. I plan to read Stohl’s book, Icons, next and compare the texts side-by-side. I thought I would LOVE Garcia’s book, based on the fact that I’ve also read some short stories by both authors (in two separate collections, Enthralledand Foretold), and I tend to like Garcia’s better. (And also based on the fact that her two dogs are named Spike and Oz, after Buffy the Vampire Slayer characters, and I couldn’t not love something written by someone with such obvious good taste). Things didn’t go exactly as anticipated.

A short synopsis first:
Unbreakable is about a teenage girl, named Kennedy, who lives with her single mother in D.C. Her father abandoned the family when she was young, leaving only a note behind, saying that they’d never be able to have a “normal life.” Kennedy blames herself, thinking that it was because she was such a strange child, with her dark, fantastical drawings of visions she sees in her head, and her eidetic memory.

Now, contrary to her father’s predictions, she does lead a pretty normal life. She has a blonde, social butterfly of a best friend named Elle. She’s just been dumped. She kicks around in big black boots and black t-shirts. She makes art. She listens to The White StripesThe Foo Fightersand is basically just the quintessential alternative girl. When she’s not spending time with Elle, she’s hanging out with her mom in the kitchen, sharing every detail of her day and cooking up brownies or pasta or what-have-you.

Then, one night, her cat escapes and she finds him in the graveyard. She sees what she swears is a ghost in the dark of night, but by the next morning, by the light of day, she’s convinced herself that it was just her imagination. Everything returns to normal until she finds her mom dead (from what she thinks is natural causes). Within a month – just as she’s about to be shipped off to boarding school by a distant aunt – the ghost shows up again – in her bedroom this time, and she’s saved from certain death by two young, hot ghost hunters. Suddenly, she’s introduced to a hidden world of “angels and demons, ghosts that can possess whatever they want, and a secret society of exorcists” (59). Her new friends claim her mom was taken from her by supernatural forces, and that her family has a history with the society. Could they be for real? And is she destined to be their newest member? All she knows is that she wants answers. And that if a demon did take her mom, she wants to learn how to kick its ass. Adventures and horrors abound…

What Made the Book Totally Worth Eating:

1. The Classic Horror Vibe. 
Garcia sure knows her archetypal images and fears. And she’s not afraid to use them. Some of my favorites within the first few chapters are Kennedy coming home to a dark house, and flipping the light switches only to find that the lights won’t go on and that the power’s out (how many times have you had that nightmare?), and her mom dropping the spoon that she’s using to stir the marinara, splattering red sauce all over the white kitchen tiles. I do wonder what it is with Kami Garcia and dead moms, though. There was one in Beautiful Creatures, too. What is she, Disney? Is this just another archetype (a typical fear of daughters?), or does it come from the author’s personal experience? If it’s the latter, I take back the Disney comment and offer my sympathies and condolences. Whatever the cause, it’s definitely a curious, marked trend.

2. The portrayal of felines. 
Back when I was a young Pooka, before I knew better than to be swayed by a kitten’s outward cuteness, I thought I wanted a gray cat named Elvis. Guess what freakin’ Kennedy has?! That exact pet. It’s kind of nutty. But, then I grew up and realized that cats have dark souls. That’s why I’m a bunny. We might be mischievous, but deep down, our hearts are just as soft as our fur. Alara, one of my favorite characters – a tough, pretty cookie of Haitian descent – knows that essential truth. She’d never have a cat and she makes her revilement of them no secret. She goes on a completely understandable, awesome rant against them in Chapter 9, and I love her for every word.

3. The Insight into Haitian Superstition and Lore.
Alara’s hatred of cats comes from her Haitian background. Traditionally, her culture fears them. I love learning little tidbits like that about other cultures. It’s a big part of the reason I loved Beautiful Creatures so much. In the course of that series, I learned, through Amma’s character, about N’awlins voodoo culture. I learned how to protect my home from evil spirits (you’re supposed to paint your doors and shutters haint blue, which is like a tropical, aquamarine color, and hang empty bottles upside down by strings on your front porch). In Unbreakable, I learned that to Haitians, the color pink is a bad omen. It represents death. Just another reason not to dress your little girl in layers and layers of pink tulle and Princess dresses. I love it. 🙂

4. The Wish-Moon.
The wish-moon isn’t a Haitian tradition; it’s one that Kennedy and her mom share. “She used to say that a moon like this [a full moon] was full of wishes and that if one of those wishes belonged to you, it might come true when the moon broke open and the cycle began all over again” (129). I love that. If I ever have kids, I hope I remember to tell them not just to wish on falling stars, but to wish on the full moon, too. It at least gives them an opportunity to indulge in hope and magic once a month, which is far more often than one sees falling stars (especially in urban-suburban New England).

5. The Twist on the Typical YA Love Triangle.
There are a lot of things that I find hard to believe about the love triangle between Kennedy and the hot, young ghost hunters. I think Kennedy’s relationship with both boys is underdeveloped. I don’t understand why she immediately falls for Jared (is it his broodiness and his bad-boy scar?) instead of Lukas, and I don’t understand why both guys are immediately drawn to her. Shouldn’t one of them have a crush on Alara, anyway? Girl’s flawless. I know, I know. Love’s not always rational. Love-at-first-sight. Teenage hormones. Blah, blah. But it feels really quick and shallow, which is not how we’re supposed to feel as readers. We’re supposed to feel, despite the characters’ age, that their love is true and deep! That’s the draw! But that’s not what I liked (obviously).

What I liked is that Lukas and Jared are identical twins. Normally, readers can just choose their “type” and root for that guy. If you like blondes, vote for Peeta. If you’re more into brunettes, you become Team Gale. With the Lockhart brothers, you’re forced to go a little further than that. You either have to side with whomever Kennedy likes more (which basically just makes you flip-flop back and forth, since that’s what she does, ultimately landing on Jared’s side), or choose based on personality (in which case Lukas is the clear winner. He may make a lot of painful digs at his wounded puppy brother, but you can tell it’s because he’s hurting himself. And he smiles sometimes, and jokes. And pays attention to the things Kennedy says and likes, and he gives her one of the most important mementos from his childhood). Anyway, it was an interesting move. And for the record, I might be swayed by Kennedy’s preferences over my own, ’cause I think I’m rooting for the wounded puppy…

6. The Legion’s Coffee Addiction.

coffee

I wish I’d counted the number of coffee cups consumed, ’cause it was a heck of a lot. And I can get behind that. So often, book heroines and authors are tea people. I’m happy to find another java junkie in Kami Garcia.

7. The Number of Creepy Children… Which I Did Count.
23. That’s how many terrifying little kid ghosts are in the book. And there’s nothing scarier than scary little kids…

What I Spit Back Out:

1. The Lack of Mourning.
The love triangle wasn’t the only emotional aspect of the book that felt too quick and too shallow. I was also put off by how infrequently Kennedy focuses on her mother’s death. She does break down and cry – once, and she mentions little things that she misses about her mom (at one point, when she’s feeling particularly conflicted, she thinks, “My mom always had the answers, or at least the brownies” (69)), but it doesn’t ever seem to hit her HARD. She seems to care more about which boy she should be having feelings for rather than not being able to feel anything at all, being totally incapacitated, or being only able to feel grief. I know the distractions are probably welcome. And I know that if she fell into a depression she wouldn’t be able to survive, and that the book would just be one big bummer, but it’s a weird event to start off with and to have to move on from and bounce back from. It felt flippant. Her father’s disappearance almost seems like a bigger deal despite the intensely close relationship she had with her mother. I’ve never lost a parent (and hope that sadness is a long, long way off), but the tone just didn’t feel right.

2. The Band Name-Dropping.
I wish, instead of mentioning specific bands like The White Stripes, The Foo Fighters, The Cure, and Velvet Revolver, Garcia would’ve just described the *type* of music Kennedy likes. When Dave Grohl talks about his own music, he refers to “energy”, “immediacy”, and “the need to thrash around”, but he also talks about, being a sucker “for a beautiful melody.” She could’ve talked about rawness, or drums, or the ache and need that music creates. She could’ve talked about hard and fast tempos, and haunting, intelligent, heart-breaking lyrics – the pulse, the beat, the words. It’s neat that readers can create a soundtrack for the book as they read along, but I hate when authors date their own work. Maybe she figured there was no way Unbreakable was going to be timeless, anyway…

3. The Name “Kennedy.”
So, Kami Garcia’s a known Buffy fan. Does this mean her protagonist’s name is an homage to the character from Buffy? ‘Cause you can’t like Kennedy if you’ve got a dog named Oz. I guess, at least, she wasn’t named Tara. I’d take Kennedy over Tara any day. Kennedy may have been obnoxious and pushy, but Tara was whiney and sniveling. She was a total snuffler. I’m okay with Willow’s sexual openness (she always was “kinda gay”), I just wish they’d have found Willow a partner who was similar to Oz in some ways – goofy, and funny, and witty – someone who was capable of anthropomorphizing animal graham crackers!-, but more honest and true to her. Someone who was definitively not Tara. Or Kennedy.

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Nothing has made me want to read the comics more than this. It might even make up for hearing that Xander and Dawn get together. Wait, nope. It doesn’t.

I feel a little bit remiss about going off on a Buffy tangent, but I also feel like with Kami Garcia, it’s probably pretty natural. I’ll get back to Unbreakable

I’m glad I read it. It was a perfect October read, and much in the Halloween spirit. But it wasn’t everything I thought it would be and more. I’m open to the possibility of liking Icons better than Unbreakable. Maybe I like Kami Garcia’s short stories better and Margaret Stohl’s novels better? But probably I just prefer the two of them working together…

I will continue reading the series. I have some theories (about Kennedy’s dad and about side-character romances), and I want to know if I’m right. Plus, it was a fast, entertaining read! But it just wasn’t as good as Beautiful Creatures. For every two facts I learned about Haitian culture, I feel like I learned 12 about N’awlins culture. For every time my heart beat faster when reading about Kennedy and Jared (or Kennedy and Luke), I feel like it exploded out of my chest when reading about Ethan and Lena (or Ethan and Olivia). For every time I shed a tear over Kennedy’s mom, I feel like I cried a river over Ethan’s. Maybe the series will improve with her next two books. I’ll wish for it on the next full moon…

Pooka Rating: 3 out of 5 Nibbles.

*This book counts toward The Paranormal Challenge over at Megan Likes Books. (October was Ghosts month!)
paranormal challenge

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About pookapicks

I'm a 20-something gal working in Children's Library Services. My likes include googly eyes, coffee, magical realism, leading Story Hours, and forcing my taste in books down people's throats. I have a pet rabbit named Moxie Crimefighter.
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7 Responses to Book Review: “Unbreakable”

  1. I can’t believe it. I love the color pink. Fun review, as always.
    Must be very very cool to live there! 🙂 Enjoy October and beyond, Pooka!

    • pookapicks says:

      Yep! Apparently it’s no joke. The character in “Unbreakable” won’t even drink a strawberry shake!
      Thanks for the nice compliment – and I hope you enjoy the season, too!

  2. Jaime says:

    I enjoyed this very thoughtful review, I thought the premise sounded great but the emphasis on a love triangle is off-putting.
    Xander and Dawn get together? Urgh. I was a Buffy devotee but I never read the comics. Sounds like that was for the best.

    • pookapicks says:

      Thank you!
      Yeah, there’s definitely a love triangle – and it’s not even a very good one. =/
      Not yet, at least.
      I did hear through the grapevine about Xander & Dawn. I haven’t personally read them yet either, and I agree. I’m kind of glad I haven’t. I don’t want to bear witness to that travesty.

  3. I had a crush on twins once, long ago. As a result I grew up utterly confused. So that’s obviously what happened to Kennedy, because seriously…the Foo Fighters?

  4. Pingback: Review #17: “Icons” | The Pooka Picks

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