Amanda is painfully insecure. She’s tired of being an unpopular, unnoticed nothing and is convinced that the way to reverse this is to get a boyfriend. She has been IMing all year long with Paul after an impromptu end of summer make-out fest about what their next meeting will be like. It does not end as she hopes. Lessons unlearned, she shifts her focus to Rick, popular jock boyfriend of a popular girl. She has intense secret rendezvous with him in his car during school breaks. He wants to go further. She thinks he’ll like her more if she does. He says he’ll take her to homecoming dance if she’ll sleep with him. She says yes.
Amanda’s mother is called “The Captain,” a micromanager who rules her family with a barbed tongue and who is only ever satisfied with Melody, Amanda’s younger sister. The writing is often clumsy, but the emotional intent is clear. Amanda is not good enough. One of the highlights of the novel was when Amanda sneakily saves her mother’s password so that she can read her mother’s emails. I was saddened that the emails were so shockingly unreflective and filled with, “poor me poor me what have I done to deserve such a daughter.” I had expected a more complex inner life, or at least some introspection about how the family dynamic is headed towards disaster. Frankly, I was led to wonder how her friend has stood by her all this time without throttling her. Amanda’s mother would easily step on anyone’s last nerve.
The relationship between the mother’s childhood and Amanda’s treatment were introduced, but not ever connected very satisfyingly. In fact, I was rather taken aback that the subject of abuse wasn’t raised. Amanda is clearly being emotionally and verbally abused.
The strongest thing about Unraveling is the emotional life of Amanda. Her insecurity, her feelings of worthlessness, her desperate attempts to secure love that end in disaster. It rang true to the point of it being painful to read. It is the strength of the novel.