May 2, 2014

Review: Undone

Undone By Cat Clarke
Available May 6, 2014 from Sourcebooks Fire
Review copy

British author Cat Clarke's latest novel is about Jem Halliday, who has been in love with her gay best friend for awhile.  Even if she didn't have that crush, he's the most important person in her life.  They've been friends through thick and then, and his sunny disposition helps her keep her chin up.  Of course, that's how things were.

Kai killed himself after someone emailed a pornographic video to the whole school, outing him in the worst way possible.  (I felt kind of weird about the fact that this storyline was clearly inspired by the real-life suicide of Tyler Clementi, but there was no author's note or afterward talking about the real case.)  Jem doesn't know how she's going to survive without him, when Kai's sister gives her twelve letters: one per month, written by Kai before he killed himself.  That's when Jem decides to track down whoever made the video and uploaded it and get revenge.

The first half of UNDONE flew by.  Clarke has a compulsively readable style, and Jem's emotions were raw and real.  She was angry, hurt, and confused by the things that started making her feel happy.  But then the book slowed down and the conclusion went totally off the rails.  (For those who read it: I'm not mad about the ending.  It's the climax that's really messy.)

The revenge storyline should drive UNDONE, but it feels half baked.  None of Jem's schemes are particularly clever, nor are they particularly brutal.  (I like to see people get their revenge thoroughly.)  Then there's the fact that she decides to base her entire course of revenge on an anonymous note. That's . . . convenient.  There is literally no investigation into who did the crime, she just believes this note.

It's sad that the plot is such a shaggy mess, because Jem is the best kind of unlikeable character.  She's lashing out, and she has an impressive steely reserve.  She has an interesting emotional arc.  She's confused by her own instincts and ignores the ways she's grown and changes on her own.  And her grief is pitch perfect.  There's also some interesting commentary on popularity.

There are seeds of a good story in UNDONE, but I can't really recommend it.  The climax makes me want to bang my head into a table until I pass out.  I'll stick to Clarke's other books.

If you are LGBTQ* and struggling with thoughts of suicide, please contact the Trevor Project at 1-866-488-7386.


  1. Definitely sounds like a plot that could have been better executed!

    1. Unfortunately. But the writing was great.

  2. It's always a shame when a book starts out so well only to get lost, and it sounds like the plot really let you down with this one!

    Mands @ The Bookish Manicurist


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