My capacity for enduring young adult paranormal romance has nearly reached critical mass. It’s ironic and, perhaps, a sad commentary that, in a genre where the possibilities are limitless and the fantastical reach of the author’s imagination should know no bounds, each new release nevertheless seems more derivative than the last. Heroines suffer either from a surfeit of unfounded confidence or a dearth of brain cells. Crucial plot elements are incorporated via deus ex machina or other such insufficient devices. Love interests are interchangeable yet somehow so ineffably brilliant that they
inspire all-consuming love within days of meeting them, and heroines with apparently insatiable lust draw the attention of every Y-chromosome individual within a 200-yard radius. While it goes without saying that I read fantasy novels to be transported into a fantastical, impossible story, I nevertheless want the story and characters in particular to be grounded in the realm of possiblity. Superpowers and supernatural DNA you might have, but that doesn’t mean I will tolerate an unrealistic portrayal of basic elements of the teenage psyche. Teenagers come in an array of personalities, yet I so often fail to see this simple truth depicted in the young adult genre; don’t even get me started on the unrealistic expectations set for teenage love lives.
With all that being said, I can appreciate Jeannine Garsee’s effort to infuse the YA supernatural genre with a taste of the extraordinary. Rinn might exhibit many of the character traits that reside on my list of “unsympathetic protagonist,” self-indulgenct petulance being foremost in the running, yet she certainly stands out from her literary peers. I’m always a sucker for stories told from the viewpoint of characters suffering some form of mental illness, so I was hopeful that Garsee would really explore the bounds of Rinn’s bipolar disorder. While her illness surely plays an integral role in establishing Rinn’s character, I felt that Garsee could have pushed much further. Particularly, I was let down by what I considered a missed opportunity to unveil the extent of Rinn’s unreliable narration. As suspicious events began to unfold, I was intrigued by the idea that Rinn’s relation of her narrative might not be altogether truthful, either due to purposeful or unintentional misguidance. What was otherwise a straightforward ghost story took on an eerily poignant layer when viewed through the uncertain lens of character perception. All the usual questions- What is really going on? Can I trust what I saw? Is there some logical explanation to all of this?- become that much more critical when the protagonist has reason to doubt her own ability to perceive. Unfortunately, by novel’s end, I got the sense that Garsee intended for her tale to be more literal than speculative. I suppose that readers could potentially read the ending as a representation of Rinn’s mental state rather than as a true confirmation of Annaliese’s existence.
The novel takes a little while to get going, but once it does, Garsee’s take on the classic haunting story breathes new life into an otherwise traditional tale. Unfortunately, while the symptoms of the supernatural presence manifested in interesting ways in the novel’s secondary characters, Garsee failed to follow through on the ghost’s motivation, instead traversing the same tired treads as so many similar stories that came before. Garsee’s imaginative take on the hows of a haunting showed her creative chops, so it was disappointing to see her squander the chance to be equally as imaginative in coming up with the why of Annaliese’s spectral presence.
Still, The Unquiet ultimately succeeds in painting a rather creepy portrait of a small-town haunting, with no small part of its success owing to Garsee’s unorthodox treatment of the romantic subplot. Nate isn’t a particularly compelling character, but his voice rings true, as does the pacing of his developing relationship with Rinn. There are no undying love proclamations here, nor an undeniable urge to propel the progression of the relationship at supersonic speed. It’s refreshing to read of two characters making a conscious decision to spend time together and see how it goes for no other reason than the fact that they take a liking to the other person. It might not make for the most titillating romance, but it feels real in comparison to the love triangles and instalove that proliferate the genre.
Overall, The Unquiet is a solid contribution to the ghost story catalogue, though it fails to live up to its potential. Still, the fact that Garsee managed to create an intriguing and complete storyline in a seeming standalone is itself a cause for celebration. I’ll check out Garsee’s next effort and hope she capitalizes on the talent that was hinted at in this effort.