Review: All Unquiet Things

Carly: She was sweet. Smart. Self-destructive. She knew the secrets of Brighton Day School’s most privileged students. Secrets that got her killed.

Neily: Dumped by Carly for a notorious bad boy, Neily didn’t answer the phone call she made before she died. If he had, maybe he could have helped her. Now he can’t get the image of her lifeless body out of his mind.

Audrey: She’s the reason Carly got tangled up with Brighton’s fast crowd in the first place, and now she regrets it—especially since she’s convinced the police have put the wrong person in jail. Audrey thinks the murderer is someone at Brighton, and she wants Neily to help her find out who it is.

As reluctant allies Neily and Audrey dig into their shared past with Carly, her involvement with Brighton’s dark goings-on comes to light. But figuring out how Carly and her killer fit into the twisted drama will force Audrey and Neily to face hard truths about themselves and the girl they couldn’t save.–Jacket Copy

I don’t encounter all that many YA murder mysteries, perhaps because there is something so inherently uncomfortable about the deaths of young people. Any murder is, of course, unpleasant, but authors of adult fiction seem to write in this genre more prolifically. Anna Jarzab’s All Unquiet Things does not shy away from this difficult subject matter, featuring a chilling image of a dead teenage girl on the cover, crisp against the blur of a grassy background. The arm of the dead body extends across the page, it’s hand curled up, beckoning the reader in. The deceased young woman lures you closer to her, as though her secrets are hidden within her outstretched palm.

I had read so many wonderful reviews of this book, and the cover is gorgeous, but it took me quite some time to get into the text itself. The novel alternates between Neily and Audrey’s perspectives, and I don’t think it was until Audrey’s first section began at page 137 that I realized what was missing. Jarzab’s writing is beautifully descriptive, and her plotting kept me on edge once I made it about halfway through, but the book felt as though it was written from the wrong point of view. Jarzab writes in the first person, but both characters seem to share a single voice–her own. Had the book been written in the third person, I think I would have been more accepting of Jarzab’s writing style, but in the first person, it seemed to lack the very distinctive characterization that I love in so many other YA books. When the sections alternated between Neily and Audrey, I had trouble identifying who was narrating because the voices lacked any real distinguishing characteristics.

The other thing that persistently bugged me throughout this book was the overuse of dashes. I love dashes, and use them from time to time myself, but I have never seen them used so ubiquitously. In her acknowledgments, Jarzab even says, “try as I might, I will never fully break my dependence on dashes…” At least she recognizes the problem, but I hope she’ll prove herself wrong the next time around.

Despite my initial resistance to this novel, I kept reading all the way through, finding myself more engrossed with every page. As soon as I recognized what I found so off-putting about the writing, I was able to enjoy the mystery itself. Jarzab’s portrayal of the dark underbelly of an elite high school was almost too convincing, likely to terrify any parents reading the book. As Neily and Audrey dig deeper into the secrets of their school’s most powerful and dangerous students, they just might discover more than they bargained for when they began their investigation into their friend Carly’s death. By  the final chapters, I found myself rooting for Neily and Audrey, racing toward the end to find out who was behind the murder.

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