Wednesday, June 1, 2011


Unearthly - Cynthia Hand
Genre: YA Paranormal
Publisher: HarperTeen
# of pages: 435
Unearthly @ Parental Book Reviews

In the beginning, there's a boy standing in the trees . . . .

Clara Gardner has recently learned that she's part angel. Having angel blood run through her veins not only makes her smarter, stronger, and faster than humans (a word, she realizes, that no longer applies to her), but it means she has a purpose, something she was put on this earth to do. Figuring out what that is, though, isn't easy. Her visions of a raging forest fire and an alluring stranger lead her to a new school in a new town. When she meets Christian, who turns out to be the boy of her dreams (literally), everything seems to fall into place—and out of place at the same time. Because there's another guy, Tucker, who appeals to Clara's less angelic side. As Clara tries to find her way in a world she no longer understands, she encounters unseen dangers and choices she never thought she'd have to make—between honesty and deceit, love and duty, good and evil. When the fire from her vision finally ignites, will Clara be ready to face her destiny?

"In the beginning, there's a boy standing in the trees..."
Immediately the book struck a chord with me, because, well, there's a boy in a tree in my current favorite young-adult novel, Jellicoe Road, so that similarity was definitely a 'win.' That is where the two books part ways, but for me, first impressions really do a lot to set my reading mood.
I'll be honest and admit to not reading a whole lot of angel-fiction books. In fact, I try and steer clear of them. With angels, I find it harder to suspend disbelief and get involved in the author's storyworld than with other paranormals, so...I was a bit skeptical, to say the least. Even with the boy in the tree.
What I found enjoyable about Unearthly was how unpretentious it was. It featured a likable and easy-to-relate-to heroine, a simple and uncomplicated angel mythology and backstory that actually made sense, diverse and interesting supporting characters, and a stunningly detailed setting - the Jackson area/Teton Mountains of Wyoming. Look, I love New York City, and I love Los Angeles, but I can't tell you how cool it is for other areas of our country to get some exposure. Several passages read like descriptions out of a travel book (which I *loved*) and enhanced the story's realness all the more.
I liked how Cynthia Hand handled her characters. It may seem like a small thing, but I like how the author didn't automatically make Clara good at every single thing she did - yeah, her angel tendencies (and that's not a spoiler, don't worry) made her more graceful, more flexible, and so forth, and she had some other interesting abilities, but not everything came naturally to her (like...flying). That was a welcome change. And can I just say how nice it is to have useful parent characters? Kudos to the portrayal of Clara's mom. Except for the fact that she withheld key plot information from her daughter for no apparent reason (still not sure about that one), I enjoyed the role Clara's mom played in the overall story. I will say, though, that Clara often gave off an immature vibe, in that she really seemed to display a tendency to being self-absorbed. Especially in her interactions with her friends, and with the two potential love interests, I really noticed a "me first" personality, which sometimes made it hard for me to relate to her. Not all the time, just sometimes. (And really, I see that a lot in other first-person YA narratives. Like caring about other people is somehow tied to weakness. You can't be strong if you put other people first...)
Really the only other "meh" thing about Unearthly, for me, was the romance angle. There's a bit of a triangle in here in that there are two guys who, at some point or another, do the usual triangle thing and rival for the main character's affections. Just like in the Twilight series, and unlike in the Hunger Games series, there seemed to be a clear 'winner.' It's the kind of thing where the reader can spot who it's going to be from the beginning, so the whole love-triangle element therefore seemed imbalanced. Plus, I didn't really like the kind of person Clara turned into when she was pining after one of the guys. She seemed to lose all common sense and only seemed interested for the superficial "he's so cute/dreamy/perfect/etc." reasons. It just seemed really out of character with who Clara was the rest of the time. The other guy, though? Boy Number 2? Absolutely perfect. And I'm glad the story ended where it did. I know we've got 2 more sequels in the near future, but it makes waiting for them a little less daunting, knowing that Unearthly's ending was rather satisfying. I'm willing to bet that the next sequel may have a bigger 'villain' character, and may spend more time dealing with more detailed angel mythology, as neither element seemed very prominent in this installment. That's fair, though, because the first book in a series usually only has time to introduce the characters, set up the premise, and give clues about where the story will head next. I'm definitely eager for the sequel.

So all in all? A fun, enjoyable, well-paced read that I would definitely recommend.
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