Anna Jarzab’s first novel All Unquiet Things is mature and thoughtful. Kirkus called it “a sophisticated teen mystery.” It’s actually hard to believe that this book is written for young adult readers; its prose, while not exactly sophisticated, is a cut above many other books published for young readers.
It was the end of summer, when the hills were bone dry and brown; the sun beating down and shimmering off the pavement was enough to give you heatstroke. One winter came, Empire Valley would be compensated for months of hot misery with three months of torrential rain, the kind of downpours that make the freeways slick and send cars sliding into one another on ribbons of oil.
All Unquiet Things is the story of Carly, Neily and Audrey, students at Brighton Day School, a prestigious private school outside of San Francisco. Through a series of flashbacks – told from Neily and Audrey’s perspective – we learn about how Carly and Neily’s middle school friendship blossomed into something more, and how the arrival of Carly’s cousin Audrey changed the dynamics of their relationship.
These teenagers are smart, but they also have a lot of other issues including deadbeat or overly demanding parents. Neily’s parents are divorced and according to Neily his father “hadn’t really parented me since I was very young and I tended to get away with most things….” The girls have problems of their own.
So what’s the mystery? Well, Carly’s dead. (Don’t worry – her ghost doesn’t speak.) Someone shot her four times and the circumstantial evidence points to Audrey’s alcoholic/drug addicted father Enzo, so he’s serving time in jail. Audrey is convinced that her father is innocent and even though her relationship with Neily has been strained by events, she seeks him out to help her try to figure out who really ended her cousin’s life.
Their investigation exposes the slimy underbelly of Brighton’s facade, but also allows the reader a glimpse into the messed up lives of students with too much money and not enough parental involvement. As Neily and Audrey try to figure out what really happened to Carly, they become friends, at first united in their search for the truth but then because they grow to genuinely care for each other.
You can’t really see whodunnit early on, which makes this a perfect read for students who like a page-turner. All Unquiet Things works on another level, too. Neily has to consider how he has been shaped by his love for Carly and how that love, no longer sustainable or attainable, is holding him back from living a fulfilling life. Audrey has to own up to her own part in Carly’s story and come to terms with the fact that her father might not be capable of all she hopes for him.
All in all, a terrific book.