Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Undone by Cat Clarke

* * * * 1/2

Jem Halliday is in love with her gay best friend. Not exactly ideal, but she's learning to live with it.

Then the unspeakable happens. Kai is outed online ... and he kills himself.

Jem knows nothing she can say or do will bring him back. But she wants to know who was responsible. And she wants to take them down.

A searing story of love, revenge and betrayal from a bestselling author.

When I start to read a book like this, it’s usually with trepidation. There’s no way to know without reading through it how it’ll go, if by the end you’ll be shred to bits or filled with a glimmer of hope. I found out that Undone did both.

Undone begins in such a dark and grief-filled place with Jem so distraught and unable to bring herself to face life without her best friend, Kai. She relives their many moments as she’s holed up in her bedroom shutting off the world. She sees her best option is to off herself as there’s no point in going on without him. The day she decides to do it, she’s interrupted by Kai’s younger sister Louise, who was instructed by Kai himself to deliver a package to Jem. Within it are 12 letters, one for each month that Jem is directed to open on the 23rd of every month.

As unlikely as it seems, this whole exchange between Jem and Louise is rather funny. It basically wakes her up from her long grief stricken stupor. Jem’s internal monologue drips with sarcasm and dry humor. First, she’s deciding between the pros and cons of a sandwich or ordering Chinese takeout as her last meal, then her disappointment with her suicide attempt being thwarted and Louise cutting into her valuable suicide time. It all caught me off guard and I loved it.

So Jem reenters the world and unexpectedly becomes part of the in crowd or as she calls it, Team Popular at school. It’s at this point that she hatches a plan to seek revenge for Kai’s death. Of course, it’s not quite that easy but in Jem fashion which would be snarkiness and social awkwardness, she makes some serious headway with plenty of goofy moments too. There are also the somber moments when she reads Kai’s letters, filled with unconditional love, affection and jokes that come with a lifetime of knowing someone so well, that may have you reaching for a tissue. But even his letters can’t deter her from The Plan, as screwy and misguided as it may be.

The story proceeds through the next few months and Jem makes progress in her own personal life but revenge is never far from her mind even as her relationships with certain members of Team Popular get complicated. It's ironic that during this entire time she's finally participating in life as opposed to watching on the sidelines like she used to do with Kai and it doesn't even register with her. No, she's still planning her impending death. By the end, things come to a serious head and Jem is faced with choosing between what she has wanted for the past year and the potential for a future that she has never allowed herself to contemplate.

Undone is written so well and there were a few moments where I was reminded of another of my favourite books, Saving June, also about the aftermath of a suicide.  Whereas the latter’s story is much more heavy, Clarke manages to relate Jem’s story with compassion and humor. Things do get serious toward the finish and I was absolutely stunned silent by the end. Whether or not Clarke intended to, my personal belief is that the end is open to interpretation which I appreciate because I am still going back and forth between what I think happened, what I feel the author wants me to think happened and what I hope happened.  

Read Undone. It's outstanding and well worth it!

~ Bel

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