book review: unspeakable things

book review: unspeakable things

the author jess lourey is an instructor at my school, so the library has all the books she’s written. she just came out with a new book inspired by the jacob wetterling kidnapping; she grew up in paynesville, and if you’ve listened to the “in the dark” podcast, you know that was a hotbed of unsavory behavior in the 80s and 90s.

so i was at the school library the other day and swiped it off the shelf; it’s #54 in amazon’s most-purchased books today, which she is super excited about (and for good reason!). i picked it up friday night and finished it this morning.

the book is told from the viewpoint of a 12/13-year-old girl who lives in rural, small-town stearns county; it’s always so weird to be reading a book and see references to places i know – i’m sure people run into this all the time, which means i need to up my minnesota author game. the parallels between her fiction narrative and the actual crimes that happened here were unsettling at times – the music teacher who lives with his parents; mother of the abducted/murdered child with the name mrs. wellstone; the syllables in jacob wetterling’s name equals the syllables in the fictionalized child’s name.

and add in all the other creepy things that were going on in the narrator’s life, which were very adult, very ick-inducing for that age – swingers parties, drug dealing, pedophilia themes, an abusive father – and it painted a very disgusting portrait of central minnesota residents. but what is very apparent in her writing is the shimmer of truth surrounding some of the themes. paynesville boys were abused in the 80s and 90s, and someone was doing it – someone who was a resident of this area.

despite the ick-factor themes of the books, i loved the narration by our 13-year-old heroine, cassie. the book is written such that it’s the looking-back narration by the present-day woman narrator. i loved the description of the band room at her school, sucking on a clarinet reed while assembling it, calling out “i seen it” or “can you borrow me that” as minnesota-isms, the clique-y-ness of lunchtime and trying to fit in.

i know this book is not for everyone. but i even liked that it made me uncomfortable at times, which i’m sure was the author’s intent. people don’t get through childhood unscathed, and some more scathed than others. multiple times it was highlighted how adults just don’t believe the kids, how it’s just boys messing around for attention. it’s even called out that what finally forced big action was that the kid who was abducted was middle class. the other victims had been from “the wrong side of the tracks” (so to speak). by making readers uncomfortable, maybe it will nudge some to start believing kids and encouraging them to speak out about assaults and prevent future assaults.

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