Sunday, December 14, 2008

Review: Unraveling by Michelle Baldini and Lynn Biederman

The jacket copy on Unraveling makes it sound like this is another Teen Sex Book, filled with morals about what teenage sexuality is like versus what it should be like, and how you shouldn't be pressured into sex, etc etc.

That is not at all what Unraveling is about.

Yes, the specter of teen sexuality hangs over the whole thing - Amanda is, after all, in a hurry to grow up and wants to go "all the way", either during a vacation to Myrtle Beach with the boy she met there last year, or back at school with her mortal enemy's boyfriend. But that's merely background chatter for what this book is really about: one teenager and her mother struggling to understand each other.

Amanda seems to always be at odds with her mother, aka The Capitan, a former English teacher who insists on proper grammar and word usage at all times with an almost slavish devotion to rules. The relationship is exacerbated by The Capitan's relationship with Melody, aka Malady, Amanda's younger sister who can apparently do no wrong. Everything and anything that goes wrong in the Himmelfarb household is apparently Amanda's fault, from stressful vacations to terrible family dinners to an unfortunate Shirley Temple (the drink) meets Chanel dress accident.

After a disastrous family vacation, complete with ill-timed periods and her mother discovering a secret tryst, Amanda returns to her usual life as a social outcast in high school. But when Rick Hayes, the boyfriend of Amanda's arch nemesis, begins to show an interest in her, Amanda is sure that everything will change.

In the meantime, her relationship with her mother continues its downward spiral. After setting up an e-mail account for her mother so she could keep in touch with her best friend, Amanda periodically checks in on what her mother is writing about her. The e-mails between the Captain and her best friend seem to confirm all of Amanda's worst fears: her mother hates her. This discovery leads to Amanda having to balance two precarious relationships: the burgeoning relationship with Rick, and the unraveling relationship with her mother. Helping her sort out her feelings are Amanda's cool aunt, the sister whose advice the Captain has never trusted, and her trusty notebook filled with poems about her feelings and eerily prescient fortune cookie fortunes.

Amanda's a very chatty narrator, and her voice was incredibly believable. Her feelings were completely authentic, from the bratty sister (I absolutely love the nicknames in this book - Malady might be the best annoying-sister-nickname ever) to worries over whether Rick actually likes her.

The harder part for me to read was the mother. I know I'm incredibly lucky to have grown up with a mother that I have always had a great relationship with. I honestly can't remember a single big fight we had. Sure, sometimes I don't completely "get" her (ie, she thinks George W. Bush is probably the best president ever while I...don't), but otherwise life has been pretty good. But like I said, I know I'm lucky, so I understand there are lots of books out there that look at mothers and daughters who have trouble connecting, for a variety of reasons.

This one, however, took the cake for me. The Captain isn't just mean in Amanda's opinion - we get to see e-mails The Captain sends to her best friend where she complains about how incompetent her daughter is. At first I thought, since this is a first person perspective where you can't always entirely trust the narrator's perspective, that Amanda was exaggerating her mother's horribleness. Nope. Mom's a bitch, plain and simple. Oh she apparently had an angsty past that has colored how she interacts with Amanda, but that doesn't explain why she so blatantly favors her younger daughter, or why she's so self-centered around her husband.

On a positive side for the book, I did like the "multi-genre" quality of it. Interspersed with fortune cookie fortunes, poetry written by Amanda, and e-mails sent back and forth between the Captain and her best friend, the variety of story telling methods give a well rounded view of what is going on for Amanda at this point in her life.
Related Posts with Thumbnails