Unreachable, Katie Leone
Publisher: Katie Leone Books
Genre: YA, Contemporary, LGBT (T)
Length: 469 pages
“Please God,” I prayed outside of Old Stinky. “I haven’t asked for much, but spare me the agony of him.”
“Don’t judge a book by it’s cover” is a phrase used very often in the world but usually that usage is not justified. Unreachable however is a prime candidate to seize upon that particular phrase and show that sometimes it cannot be anything but true.
Janice Rosenthal is a seventh grade teacher in the outskirts of New York. She loves her job, caring for and nurturing a new class of children every year preparing them for the challenges that lie ahead. What seems to be her perennial classroom ‘Old Stinky’ is stuck above the school dumpsters and this is usually her biggest problem for the year. This year however Janice has what she believes to be the mother of all problems entering her classroom, Andrew Bryant.
“I watched as he walked into the room. He had a swagger that I instantly disliked. It was the walk that announced to the world that he was a tough guy and dared others to come at him.”
Andrew is known as the student who sends teachers to early retirements and for what seems to be good reason. He is disruptive, rude, prone to bursts of anger and as a result spends most of his first week in the principal’s office. After being prompted to give the boy a bit more of a chance, Janice starts conversing with him privately and discovers that there is much more to this boy than what meets the eye.
Utilising an inquisitive nature and the need to care for the children under her care, Janice begins a journey of discovering this boy’s past, present and likely future, in the process finding a horrible world out there. Along the way Janice discovers that the boy’s story is truly tragic and he carries with him a secret which is tearing him up inside.
The Parts I Enjoyed
Oh the sweet naive southern belle, these lasses have all but died out. Janice, while not being too naive, still comes across to me as a sweet natured and caring southern belle. I truly admire Janice’s devoted nature to her class and especially Andrew. Of course, with the story being told from her perspective I cannot go past the fact that she questions herself constantly and is quite clearly putting on a much tougher exterior. However this is a characteristic I love to see in all people as it allows for growth of a persons abilities and positive development of their personal and professional lives.
Janice is a wonderful character who is somewhat flawed and lonely herself, but in the course of this story grows to believe she can take on much greater challenges and truly change another persons life.
Andrew is a tough kid, a bad kid, destined to end up in prison. Or is he? This question dominates the first half of Unreachable with the answer fluctuating between the extremes multiple times. The way in which this character was written along with his change to the alter ego of Desiree is an exciting and thought evoking journey into the depths of loneliness, despair and mistrust that is present in the mind of a 12 year old. I came away from the story truly caring for this child and would want nothing more than for him/her to live a wonderful and fulfilling life. Rarely do I have characters impact on me so much.
Where’s the Antagonist?
Books, movies, theater and video games all usually have common themes of one character, be it a person or something else, standing out as the clear villain. There is a great tendency in many books involving LGBT characters where this is usually represented by some homophobic parent or other citizen.
To utilise a lesson taught by Janice to her students Les Miserables is an example of there being no clear antagonist. Javert is quite usually painted the villain, when in fact he is just a man trying to do what he believes is right in this world. Throughout Unreachable each character at one point or another becomes the villain, usually not intentionally, and when it becomes apparent, they generally atone for their crimes, becoming better people as a result.
There is no clear person or organisation who is in the wrong for the majority of the book. We later learn of the mistreatment of Andrew at the hands of others, but these characters are not critical to the future of him. Instead it is story of Andrew and Janice building a relationship to help heal the child and fulfill Janice’s need to care for her children. This was highly refreshing to read, particularly in this genre, and it is something which I reserve great praise for in the author’s writing.
Not Afraid of Taboo
Abuse and transgender are still taboo subjects in the world of modern literature, even more so when they involve children. Not so for Katie Leone. The author has succeeded in placing these issues front and centre in a novel intended to be read by a mainstream audience. These topics are not there for shock or ridicule but as a way of exploring tragic but real issues that affect children no matter the home or background they come from.
The failure of adults in supporting and caring properly for children when they are in their most dire need is present both in Unreachable and in the world today. I truly hope this book spreads the message to all that we should listen properly to children and explore the reasons behind the way they act. With a little nurturing even the worst child can blossom into a beautiful flower.
The Reason I Knocked 0.5 Off
Up until this point I have had nothing but praise for this book. Unfortunately there was one very key factor which I could not in all good conscious ignore.
With this length of book (it is a VERY long book for this genre) often a key feature is the ability to hook the reader from the get-go. The first 10-15% of the book is dedicated to Janice preparing for the school year and becoming very repetitive in the fact that she is dreading Andrew being in her class. The chapters are far longer at this stage of the book and there is a very high level of descriptive prose placed upon the pages.
Luckily the story picks up after this initial period and we are treated to a well paced book. The contrast, however, between these two sections is very easy to see as the chapter lengths wind down and the pace accelerates to make for an exhilarating ride. I considered this factor a drawback as I was sorely tempted to put Unreachable down about 10% in and thankfully for the sake of this review I did not.
Unreachable is a thoroughly entertaining and emotional story which explores the quite often taboo topics of being transgender and child abuse. The story of Janice and Andrew is a magnificent one which will draw on the heartstrings of our older readers and perk the interest of the younger ones. The book is suitable for all Young Adult readers and I suggest that you pick up a copy before they run out.
(Just kidding of course…. God bless our modern electronic age. BUT SERIOUSLY, READ IT!)
“Your place is with me, little flower. I did everything I could to make it happen.”