Author: Eileen Cook
Publisher: Simon and Schuster
I'm starting in on Unraveling Isobel which has a purple cover, whilst drinking Darjeeling tea which comes in a purple pack! What could be more purple-fect? Gee darling, it's Darjeeling….
Reading another first person PoV novel is not exactly thrilling me, since I am already in process of reading two others; Living Dead in Dallas and Over the Rainbow! I'm really down on 1st person PoVs, but there are so many of them out there! What gives with that? None of them are detective stories! Well, maybe this one is - kinda. I began this novel feeling the same thrill I enjoyed when I started reading Sea of Tranquility. I can only hope this turns out as well as that did, but there are too many tropes in this novel so far to give me that kind of confidence. How shall I trope thee? Let me count the ways:
- The girl is seventeen
- She arrives at a new school
- At least one of her parents is not in the picture
- The guy is roughly the same age
- At least one of his parents is not in the picture
- There's an electric current that runs between them when they touch
- The guy is brooding (no word on when the eggs will hatch….)
- The girl sees the guy without his shirt on fairly soon in their relationship
- The guy is muscular
- The guy is troubled
- The girl and the guy hate each other on sight but the hatred all-too-rapidly turns into instadore
- The girl ends up in the guy's arms because of some happenstance which literally throws them together
- The girl is injured in a small way; the guy takes care of her even when her parent would be more appropriate to the task
- The guy's eyes are Aryan blue
- The guy has hair falling into said eyes
- There are bitchy girls in school
- The school lunches are nasty
- The guy catches her doing something embarrassing
- The girl suspects the guy of perpetrating some evil act
- The couple is caught in flagrante delicto by the bitchiest girl in the school
This novel starts out with Isobel traveling on the ferry to the island where she will live with her mother and her mother's new husband. It’s her last year of high school and she has to spend it at a new school away from her friends and everything that's familiar. Not only is her stepfather's name Richard, he really is a dick. Think of him as Richard the Turd. His son Nathaniel is your standard trope and completely uninteresting except, of course, to Isobel.
Given the chance to choose her own bedroom, Isobel snoops in Nathaniel's room and then finds her way up to the attic level where there's a room which is the only one she likes. Nathaniel throws a hissy fit when he discovers this, because this is dead sister Evelyn's dorm! No one can understand how Isobel managed to get up there because the door to the upper stairs is supposedly always kept locked. Nathaniel's mother and his mentally challenged kid sister died a few months back in a boating accident. That night Isobel, a budding artist, sketches the room but falls asleep in the middle of it.
She wakes up to a banging sound: the standard loose window trope, and she sees a young girl in her room, dripping water, with a piece of seaweed stuck to her face. Isobel screams. Everyone rushes into the room, and they all think she's had a nightmare. When Dick seizes her sketch pad and, uninvited, looks through her drawings, he freaks at the one she drew of the room - which is now different from what she drew: the sketch portrays the room as it was when the girl slept there, not as it is now. Dick tears up the drawing. When everyone has left, Isobel discovers a patch of fluid on the floor which she immediately tastes. It’s salt water and there's a piece of seaweed in it. Funny how not a single one of four people noticed that when the lights were on and they were all purposefully looking around for signs of an intrusion...! Isobel recovers the torn pieces of the picture. I'm guessing there's a clue in there somewhere.
But there are bigger issues here! Who in their right mind would blindly taste a patch of anonymous liquid they discovered on a dirty floor? And worse, who would do that, and then dismiss it all as imagination the every next day? How would I have written this? I would have had Isobel step in the liquid, which was hidden under the curtain, which is why it wasn't seen before. When she looks down, she sees the seaweed; then curiosity overcomes caution, and she tastes the water. That way it would seem far more natural (if still icky!). So yes, there are some serious problems with this novel. As another example: the first time Isobel explores the kitchen she notes that "There wasn't even a dishwasher...", but later, after Nathaniel improbably comes out of the kitchen carrying a very sharp knife for no other reason than to artificially scare Isobel (he was supposedly using the very sharp knife to spread cream cheese onto a bagel) she goes back into the kitchen with him, and he's unloading the dishwasher. Hmm! The case of the phantom dishwasher! Maybe it died and came back as a ghost, too? I'm sorry, but that just doesn’t wash!
At one point, Cook starts a list that begins with 'either', but it lists more than two options. Just saying...! But at least she knows to write chaise longue instead of chaise lounge! Props to her for that. So yes, problems and I'm trying to stem my nausea at the trope guy, but overall, I'm enjoying the story. Cook knows how to hook, but she also frequently kicks me out of my enjoyment of the story by the awful instadore. The problem for me is really not so much that it's not likable, but that the potential for it to go south with the birds is high, and I don’t like that! I'm stepping out with a new story here, and it’s full of promise and potential. What in life is greater than exploring something new: a new novel, a new place, a new movie, a new song, a new relationship? But the joy of exploration of a new home with fine wooden floors is considerably lessened when there are so many loose rugs underfoot. I am hoping this Cook won’t spoil the broth she's creating for me.
She brings in the sad trope of the Ouija board (French-German for 'yes', of course) when three girls come over to Isobel's for a sleep-over. Like I said in another review, Yes-Yes boards are nonsense and not a single one of them has ever spelled out any message from the great beyond, so it’s a pity Cook couldn’t find something better; however, having said that, she handles it quite well, at one point turning it into a finger-wrestling match between Isobel and Nicole when Nicole tries to take over the planchette and answer her own question with Nathaniel's name! That was amusing. Then a mirror shatters and the part which sticks in Isobel's foot seems to carry a portion of the black and white image of Evelyn which Isobel saw in the mirror before it shattered.
So the story continues to lure despite some YA clichés and it’s an easy read. I'm interested in finishing it and I hope the reward is worth putting up with Nathaniel's comic book studly magnetism. At least Isobel isn’t quite the wilting violet I feared she'd become, and Cook keeps the Mary Sue factor under reasonable control. She does let loose a huge plot fart when she has Nathaniel take Isobel down to the beach by the secret library exit, and Isobel almost falls down a well. Nathaniel reveals to her that the well had a very poor top, but her father covered it over and sealed it some time before. Hmm! Daughter and mother mysteriously drowned. Daughter's body never found. Well on property. Father covered over the well. Anyone here read the Telegraph? I wonder if there's a skeleton in the well.
After a bizarre incident when sea-shells are found all over the house - Dick nearly stepped on one, horror of horrors! - it's deemed that Isobel is cracking up and needs therapy. Seriously? This one was too much to take, especially when her mother gave Isobel no support whatsoever. It's just not realistic, not even close, so at that point I wasn't liking the novel at all. But Isobel goes to see Doctor Mike, which is an entertaining scene, and it helped recover the story for me a bit - that and the really cool revelation on p271 which I never saw coming. Isobel later learns that her therapist is Nicole's father. Worse than this, Nicole reveals to Isobel and Nathan, after she catches them kissing, that she can hear everything going on in her father's doctor's office because of a shared air-vent with her room: Mike's office is in his house. At this point Isobel has a case for a huge malpractice suit, yet neither she nor Nathaniel has that thought even cross their mind. Nor does Isobel, idiot that she is, consider taking that particular issue to her mother. So now we have child abuse going on.
There are also some weird typos in the half of the novel. For example, on p136 we find, "The past two weeks had done nothing but convince me I was cheer leader material." I think the word 'but' in that sentence was intended to be the word 'to' instead, given the context. I guess it could be sarcasm, but it doesn't read like that to me, in context. On p154 we find, "Gams of steal" when Isobel is joking about her legs. That should have been "Gams of steel," but I don't see how Isobel would use the term 'gams' for legs. I think Cook was trying to be clever and use it because it echoes "Buns of Steel", but it fell flat for me because it didn't seem like something Isobel would think of to say. On p205, Cook writes, "You dad does like you" instead of "Your dad...". I tell you, these writers should hire me to proof read their material! On another subject, we're repeatedly reminded that Isobel isn't athletic, yet she mentions an old sports bra at one point! I guess I don't see how she would even own a sports bra, much less an old one, if she doesn't do sports.
Nowhere does Cook ever reveal exactly how big the island is, but given what limited resources it has, and how small the town is, I fail to see how it could have a full-sized high school. I also can't credit Nicole with having such influence over the school so that everyone is essentially a slave to her whims. It's not realistic. Neither is it realistic that everyone would have exactly the same reaction towards Isobel after Nicole spreads the word that she caught her kissing Nathaniel in the school parking lot. Everyone shuns Isobel and that's pure bullshit.
But in the end, I am going to rate this as a worthy read, because the ending isn't bad at all, apart from the improbable behavior of Isobel's mother, but then she's been improbable all the way through the tale! So yes, a worthy, and a plan to read at least one more of Cook's novels. She has at least three others out there, but no entry in wikipedia, so I have no idea at this point in what order they were published.