YA Weekend: The Unfortunates by Kim Liggett
I received a review copy from the publisher. This does not affect the contents of my review and all opinions are my own.
Mogsy’s Rating: 3 of 5 stars
Genre: Thriller, Young Adult
Series: Stand Alone
Publisher: Tor Teen (July 10, 2018)
Length: 224 pages
The Unfortunates is the second novel I’ve read by Kim Liggett, which I was excited to read after how much I enjoyed The Last Harvest even though on the surface it didn’t appear to have as much of a horror bent. The story follows Grant Franklin Tavish V, the son of a wealthy and prominent US senator. As a result, Grant never wanted for anything growing up, and his future was secure. He would go to the right schools, make the right connections, marry the right girl, and perhaps one day follow in his father’s footsteps.
But when the book opens, we see that nothing is going the way as planned for Grant. That’s because he did a terrible thing. Now his parents are scrambling to fix the problem, mobilizing lawyers and pulling strings in an attempt to make it all go away and put their son’s life back on the right track. But Grant’s not even sure that’s what he wants anymore. The guilt that has been eating away at him since that terrible night has taken over, and he’s ready to face what he thinks he deserves. Carefully, he starts putting together a plan. It’s a long-standing tradition for male children in the Tavish family to do a caving excursion on the Appalachian Trail as a rite of passage, braving the elements for four days and four nights. In the week before his scheduled court date, Grant begins preparing for his trip, but secretly, he is also putting all his affairs in order because he isn’t anticipating on coming back.
Soon after he begins his descent into the caves though, an incident causes a collapse, ruining all his carefully laid plans. Grant is trapped underground with four other teens from a school group who were unable to make their way back to the surface, and together they must share their resources and knowledge and fight to survive.
I have to say, I felt torn after finishing this one. Did I like it? Yes. But something tells me I would have enjoyed it even more had I not been able to predict the entire story after a mere sixty pages in. And that’s where reviewing this book gets difficult. It was obvious this was meant to be an emotional and poignant journey, one that should be filled with meaningful epiphanies and lessons. However, much of this was predicated on the ending, which if you saw it coming miles away would take away a lot of the intended impact. And that’s where I find myself now, unsure of how to feel about this novel. I suppose I can appreciate the story, along with its ideas and its goal, on a somewhat superficial “Well, that was sort of nice” level, but sadly it doesn’t go much deeper than that.
I also want to say that The Unfortunates is the kind of book where the less you know going in the better, but quite honestly, I think many will still predict the story early. That’s because the author made things a little too obvious. Without going into too much detail in case of spoilers, there is a distinct difference between how the first half of the book is told versus the second half, and anytime something unusual happens to make the reader question what’s going on is another opportunity for them to figure it out.
I suspect this is why The Unfortunates was such a short book. Liggett probably knew that the longer you spent with the story, the more likely you would work out her purposes, so she deliberately made sparse with the details and practically raced through the final act, glossing over everything that led up to the big reveal. Ironically, had she actually slowed down to take the time to develop the plot and characters, this might have resulted in a deeper and more satisfying read. As it is, Grant and the new friends he meets down in the caves—Shy, Kit, Maria, and Darryl—all felt rather flat and generic. The story also felt very scripted, with every action taken by the characters being choreographed, but to be fair, that might have been the result of knowing what was coming.
Final thoughts? The Unfortunates wasn’t a bad book, but personally I thought it was much too predictable to be a genuinely satisfying read. Since that predictability was the key factor affecting my opinion of this book though, if that’s not something that typically bothers you, it still might be worth giving it a shot. I do like Kim Liggett’s writing, and despite this novel being less than I expected, I still look forward to seeing what she’ll write next.