Unreachable, Katie Leone

unreachableRating: 4.5 Stars

Publisher: Katie Leone Books

Genre: YA, Contemporary, LGBT (T)

Length: 469 pages

Reviewer: Josh.

Purchase At: amazon.comSmashwords

 

 

“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

Janice

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/Desiree

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.

Slow StartWho+Said+Turtles+Were+Slow+.+Could+Make+a+Good+Abandon_9d7933_3842088

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.

 

Summing Up

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.”



14 responses to “Unreachable, Katie Leone

  1. Kazza says:

    Wonderful review, Josh. Nice to see a good Trans books for YA.

  2. Cindi says:

    As a southern girl myself, I love the fact that Janice is a southern belle. 🙂 I had an amazing teacher who made a world of difference for me and was the one adult who made a difference at a very important stage in my life. Everything I know and believe now would not be here without this man. I love reading books about teachers who make a difference. My heart broke for Andrew and like Kazza said, it’s nice to see a good Trans book for YA. It’s rare.

    Another great review, Josh.

    • Kazza says:

      It is so wonderful to have a teacher who makes a difference. I had an English teacher like that for a while in high school, so I know what you mean, Cindi.

  3. Carolyn says:

    Thanks for the review, Josh. I’m a fairly new visitor to GBBR, but I enjoy your analysis. (This is my first time commenting, but I had a whole reply written up in response to your Collide review, which I lost on a crash and, you know how it goes, felt too annoyed to redo it.) As for the book, I’m definitely adding this one to my list. I think you’re so right about how we need more books like this, not only for the subject matter, but also, as you say, ones without that villain dynamic. In unskilled hands, that dynamic can paint a victim or otherness quality that does a disservice to the subject.

  4. Katie Leone says:

    I certainly appreciate the review and it came as a total, but pleasant surprise to me.

    I agree with the fact that the book starts off slow. I wrestled with the decision to leave it in or take it out several times. At one point I considered rewriting it to get to the meat of the story. In the end, I decided to leave well enough alone and hope that the background aids the story later on.

    There was a challenge in not having a typical villain in the story, though I thought I came close in the character of Mrs. Caldwell. The story was so full with the dynamic of Janice and Andrew that there was little room for something diabolical. That said, however, there is more to this story to come, but it is most likely a year away. There is a sequel planned and there is a more typical antagonist in it.

    Again, I thank you for your kind words and have passed your site along to others.

  5. Tom Peashey says:

    It was my privilege to assist Katie in copy editing this masterful work. I join Katie in thanking Josh for such a thoughtful and correct evaluation. I’m certain we have not heard the last of our “Unreachable” family and look forward to the continuing saga. This may equal or exceed her “God Bless the Child” series.

    Two points: first to restate what Josh pointed out, the setup is long – please don’t give up on the book too quickly… it’s well worth the read… and second, this book should be mandatory reading for all K-12 school teachers… and those who aren’t teachers after reading it will have a very accurate picture of what mindset a teacher goes through and the thorough preparation that is necessary to properly educate our young.

    Again, thank you Josh for your excellent review and especially for pointing out that this book is PG only due to some mild language and the final plot twist, there is no sex, no violence, no gun play and I would have no problem with my teen reading it.

  6. I am really thankful for this GLBTQ blog for young adults. It is hard to find them seperate and I love this review.

  7. stefanie says:

    I was suggested this web site. This review means a lot and I think it is wonderful!

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