Monday, December 28, 2020

Unspeakable Things by Jess Lourey

Synopsis (via Goodreads): Inspired by a terrifying true story from the author’s hometown, a heart-pounding novel of suspense about a small Minnesota community where nothing is as quiet—or as safe—as it seems.

Cassie McDowell’s life in 1980s Minnesota seems perfectly wholesome. She lives on a farm, loves school, and has a crush on the nicest boy in class. Yes, there are her parents’ strange parties and their parade of deviant guests, but she’s grown accustomed to them.

All that changes when someone comes hunting in Lilydale.

One by one, local boys go missing. One by one, they return changed—violent, moody, and withdrawn. What happened to them becomes the stuff of shocking rumors. The accusations of who’s responsible grow just as wild, and dangerous town secrets start to surface. Then Cassie’s own sister undergoes the dark change. If she is to survive, Cassie must find her way in an adult world where every sin is justified, and only the truth is unforgivable.

When we bought a house I decided to join the Nextdoor app (side note: there are some really weird people in my neighborhood), and then randomly created a Book Club for the area we live in. It has been surprisingly successful! Who knew so many people were craving books and bookish conversations? It's been a lot of fun so far, but also a lot of work, which is why I recently added a second moderator for the group. Anyways, short story long, Unspeakable Things was the first book we read for book club. πŸ˜‚ If you want to join, I can send you a link! You don't actually have to live nearby. 

I had no idea this story was based on real events that occurred in the author's hometown, but that made this book even more disturbing to read. It's not just scary dark, but psychologically creepy. The trauma the main character and her sister endure (both physical and mental) were hard to read about. I don't think I'll ever get the image of their father cutting his nails out of my head. It was just so well-written, and I could feel the fear the girls lived with every day. And that was just at home! 

Boys were being raped in the "bad" part of town (which meant fewer people cared that it was happening), a Peeping Tom was on the loose (in the nicer neighborhoods, so it got more attention), and then Cassie's parents hosted house parties (these were mostly so people could have sex with different partners, or pick up random people while they were there). There was A LOT going on in this book, and most of it overlapped in one way or another. The complicated relationships people have with each other, what someone is willing to overlook or simply refuse to acknowledge, and how children are shaped by their surroundings. I hated so many of the characters in this book: the father for not protecting his children in the ways that mattered, the mother for pretending everything was okay, the family friends for choosing to remain willfully ignorant, the teachers for not noticing the signs, and the kids themselves for thinking they could handle everything on their own. 

Unspeakable Things was eerie - and I hate that it's based on something true - but the characters themselves weren't captivating. Obviously, I didn't want anything bad to happen to them, but they felt underdeveloped and like shadows of the people they were meant to be. I think the author did an amazing job with the suspense and mystery, but I wish the characters themselves had been more compelling. I also didn't understand a lot of their reactions to certain situations, so understanding their thought processes would have been beneficial in those scenarios. 

I'm also not happy with how the story ended. The author left a lot of things unsaid, and there were more than a few loose ends at its conclusion. I wanted to know what happened to certain people and what their lives were going to be like after experiencing something so traumatic. I felt robbed of a satisfying ending, especially after the emotional turmoil the author put me through. The book wasn't terrible -  it definitely makes you think and question everything that's happening - but I didn't feel very invested in the characters themselves. Was it worth reading once? Sure. I know there are aspects of this book that will stay with me for a while, but it's not one I'm going to keep on my shelves. (★★★☆☆)

*this post has been backdated


  1. Oy, that is tough. I feel like if you are going to invest emotionally in that kind of a story, you NEED the payoff in the end! I don't know that I could handle it to begin with, especially if it is based on a true story, and then knowing that the end wouldn't satisfy me... yeah definite pass. Great review, and your book club sounds so fun!!

    1. Right? I felt like I was drug through the emotional mud, and then there wasn't a satisfying conclusion at the end. 😐 Like you said, I NEEDED more than that.

      The book club has been fun! Although, people are really active throughout the month, and then no one comes to the Zoom meetings, haha. Working on it!

  2. Ugh, so many unanswered questions and loose ends would bother me, too, in a story like this!

    I have Nextdoor for our neighborhood and people post the strangest things!

    1. Stories like this need a more satisfying resolution. I can understand an author wanting to leave some mystery at the end, but you can't leave the big pieces unresolved. Those definitely need answers and explanations before the end of the book.


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“Stuff and nonsense. Nonsense and stuff and much of a muchness and nonsense all over again. We are all mad here, don't you know?”
― Marissa Meyer, Heartless