Isobel’s life is falling apart. Her mom just married some guy she met on the internet only three months before, and is moving them to his sprawling, gothic mansion off the coast of nowhere. Goodbye, best friend. Goodbye, social life. Hello, icky new stepfather, crunchy granola town, and unbelievably good-looking, officially off-limits stepbrother.
But on her first night in her new home, Isobel starts to fear that it isn’t only her life that’s unraveling—her sanity might be giving way too. Because either Isobel is losing her mind, just like her artist father did before her, or she’s seeing ghosts. Either way, Isobel’s fast on her way to being the talk of the town for all the wrong reasons.
Discovery: The amazing cover and Yellow-Wallpaper-esque story drew me in like a firefly to a lamp.
+ Writing style. How have I never read Eileen Cook’s novels before? Isobel is exactly the kind of YA contemporary heroine that I love: she’s whip-smart, slightly sarcastic and confident. Granted, she doesn’t always make the right decisions or say the right things, but she dances to her own beat and to hell with what other people think. Her narration of the story kept me going, even though I could see the ending from a mile away. In this case, I wouldn’t count the predictability of the story against it, because I had such fun reading it! Isobel’s imagination comes to life on the pages, and I could hear her voice as easily as though she were next to me. That kind of writing is rare and should be appreciated.
+ Themes. As I mentioned earlier, Unraveling Isobel‘s plot reminded me of “The Yellow Wallpaper,” a story by Charlotte Perkins Gilman. For those who aren’t familiar with that short story, it is about a young wife who is confined to an upstairs bedroom by her physician husband. They are on holiday, and he believes that the solitude will do her good–she has been suffering from “hysterics.”
John is practical in the extreme. He has no patience with faith, an intense horror of superstition, and he scoffs openly at any talk of things not to be felt and seen and put down in figures.
Unfortunately, the constant silence begins to drive the woman into a psychosis and she becomes obsessed with the room’s yellow wallpaper. She begins to believe that there are other women in the wallpaper.
Sometimes I think there are a great many women behind, and sometimes only one, and she crawls around fast, and her crawling shakes it all over.
I won’t spoil the ending in case anyone decides to read it, but it is a spine-tingling conclusion. Isobel and the unnamed woman would certainly have a lot to talk about. Both women are believed to be crazy, and because of that assumption, they fall more and more deeply into their fantasies. Or do they? I’m no hard-core feminist, but the gender roles at play in both stories are fascinating to consider. What is it about men that makes people defer to their “better judgment?” What is it about women that makes them “fall prey” to things like hysterics or psychosis? Has our own society not learned from the past?
I’m particularly interested in Isobel’s mother. Isobel describes her as a weak woman, someone who just wants to have a secure and happy life. The reader sees her dismiss her daughter’s words and pleas to keep the peace. Where does that subservience come from? Was it always ingrained in her, as in the protagonist of the “Yellow Wallpaper?” And why do these beliefs continue to exist in today’s world? These questions are why I’m not completely sold on the ending, though I do admire Isobel’s courage.
The final say: Unraveling Isobel is a wonderfully entertaining novel, with characters that shine and hidden themes that will keep you thinking.
Rating: Very good.