‘I miss him so much. It doesn’t get any easier. No matter what they say, time doesn’t heal the wound. The longer they’ve been gone, the worse it is. At least I’ve got the letters. But it won’t be long before they’re all gone, then I’ll be left with nothing – apart from the satisfaction of knowing I at least did something to get back at the people responsible for his death.’
For years, Jem has been in love with her best friend, Kai, her gay best friend, but one day, after he is outed online, Kai kills himself. He leaves behind a bundle of letters, one for every month of the year following his suicide. Every letter tells Jem to move on with her life, and forget him, but deep down all Jem wants to do is get revenge. The question is: how far is she willing to go?
Cat Clarke likes to write books about subjects we don’t like to talk about. In Entangled, she wrote about depression; in Torn, she wrote about guilt; but in Undone, her third novel, she touches on bullying, sexual abuse, and teenage suicide, and the result is a truly harrowing read.
These are not light-hearted subjects, they are painful and very, very real, and Clarke knows this; she writes with a realism that is honest and open, and it may make for a brutal and difficult read, but it’s the only way we should be broaching these subjects. There is nothing to be gained in sugar-coating them, only in writing truthfully can we really face them.
The genius of Undone lies in the way it is written. This is a book about a girl who can’t move on, who becomes so wrapped up in what happened to her best friend that she is blinded by anger to the point of no return, and all of this is ironic, because ultimately this is a book about acknowledging that bad things happen, terrible things happen, but when you wake up the next morning, the world will still be turning, and life must somehow find a way to go on.
In my review of Entangled earlier this summer, I wrote how Clarke’s choice of narrative was ‘refreshingly truthful’. In Undone, the exact opposite is true, but this time, it makes for an example of storytelling at it’s finest. We, the reader, can see the road Jem is heading down long before she does, and it forces us to ask ourselves whether we side with her, whether we believe she is in the right to seek revenge, or whether she is going too far, whether she needs to stop and realise what she’s doing. Whatever side you fall down on, the narrative gives an almost sliding-doors effect to the story; every time Jem makes a decision you can almost see the crossroads she’s standing at, hear the cogs whirring in her brain as she makes the decision about which road to take: does she keep going with the plan, or does she let it go?
I love stories that transport you to other worlds, and take your mind off real life, but the fact is that stories can teach us more about ourselves, about this world, about life, and about growing up, in a way that little else can, and when it comes to talking about those subjects we don’t like to talk about, I truly believe Cat Clarke’s voice is the one we should be listening to. Undone is a gripping, unpredictable, and emotional story, but it also reminds us that however painful life can get sometimes the best thing to do is to move on, and let go.
This is part of a series of reviews I am writing leading up to YA Shot, a UK day-long convention celebrating Young Adult and Middle Grade literature, which takes place on October 28th 2015.
To read more reviews from authors attending the convention, click here.