TEEN LIBRARIAN'S REVIEW:
"Unraveling" is a provocative, amazingly realistic story of how one girl regrettably trades her sexuality for fleeting popularity. Honestly, this is one of the most gripping, stunningly accurate depictions of teenage life that I've come across in ages, and I think high school girls should read it both as entertainment and, perhaps, cautionary tale.
High school sophomore Amanda Himmelfarb is blessed with a curvy body and lots of natural sex appeal. A member of her school's swim team, Amanda exists in that netherworld of invisibility between popularity and geekdom. In the summer before tenth grade, Amanda performs a sex act on a crush while her family is staying at the shore. Although the boy never speaks to her again and her overbearing mother punishes her, Amanda chooses instead to focus on those precious few moments when she was important to that boy. Back at school, after a hot jock starts to secretly sneak around with Amanda — he has a girlfriend he sees in public — she again can't help but recognize the power she possesses in her sexuality. In a bit of flirting that gets way out of hand, Amanda offers to sleep with the dreamy Rick Hayes if he will escort her to the homecoming dance. Rick, as you might expect, agrees.
What makes "Unraveling" work so well is that we as readers understand exactly why Amanda would enter into such a demeaning bargain. Her own mother was an overachiever with plans for college and a career when she unexpectedly got pregnant with Amanda as a teen. Amanda's mom, whom she labels "the Captain," constantly criticizes, scolds, nitpicks, and otherwise hassles Amanda, all under the mistaken belief that such actions will help Amanda achieve her full potential and avoid her mom's past errors. Instead, Amanda sees herself as an unwanted mistake, a constant burden, and as someone who can never seem to do anything right. Naturally, then, Rick's hideous offer makes perfect sense to Amanda, as now she can finally become someone. Amanda believes that when she walks into homecoming on Rick's arm, her life, at long last, will be perfect.
It's refreshing to read a novel that portrays loveless teen sex in a straightforward, non-moralizing manner. Amanda's fractured self-esteem and sense of shame, as well as the utter frankness of this novel's depiction of the consequences of sex for teen girls, reminded me of Sara Zarr's "Story of a Girl" and Ellen Wittlinger's "Sandpiper." This blunt — but not at all lewd! — novel features a complex, fully realized mother/daughter relationship, some harsh but believably conveyed life lessons, and deeply personal and moving poetry. I recommend it to high school age readers.