Book Review: Unspoken by Nikolas P. Robinson

The premise of this novel intrigued me, which is why I agreed to review it in exchange for a review e-copy.

In this novel, Nathan, an employee of a mental institution, spends most of his time pining for the love of Leyna, a coworker. Through the first half of the novel, he spends a lot of time thinking about her and discussing her with his best friend and his mother, who is a non-responsive patient (on life support) at a local hospital. I found myself skimming or speed-reading through sections in this first half, as much of it is filled with Nathan’s thoughts. There was much more “telling” than I prefer and lengthy sentences that over-explain Nathan’s motivations—without the explanations, the reader would still have come to the same conclusions: Nathan is obsessed with this girl but will not do a thing about it. At times, I felt that things were being drilled into my head when one or two subtle clues would have sufficed. As a reader, I felt frustrated during the first half of the book, which I think was the point. (Here’s where my English teacher hat goes on.) I think the reader was supposed to feel like Nathan—sitting on top of bottled-up feelings for a girl he can’t muster the courage to talk to. I think we’ve all been in a similar situation at some point in our lives and thus can relate to Nathan. Still, he came off as somewhat whiney.

I would have preferred more “showing” rather than “telling.”

(Some spoiler follows. If you’re okay with this, then continue scrolling down!)

I should also mention that while Nathan is moping around and wishing he could “get the girl,” there are allusions to an infection that has been taking over the world, making people act like mental patients. A man who soils himself on an elevator. A doctor who slams his head into the pavement as a way of committing suicide. It’s foreshadowed that these things will become an epidemic soon, but Nathan has been too busy being “emo” to put together the clues. Understandable, I suppose, but frustrating. I would much rather read about creepy stuff people are doing than hear more about how Nathan’s life is miserable.

When Nathan finally does “make the move,” we’re thrown into a somewhat graphic sex scene, which is fine except that it came out of nowhere in relation to all the thinking and pining that had been happening (or not happening) previously. From a literary analysis perspective, I suppose the vividness of the scene represents Nathan’s feelings—his grim feelings had been moping around for half the novel, and then suddenly, like fireworks, his life feels complete.

But his happiness is short lived, as Leyna soon becomes infected. While the first half of the novel spent ample time describing all the nuances of Nathan’s feelings, the second half of the book left me craving detail. Before Leyna’s infection gets too bad, the two move into the same room together in the mental institution (where they decide to stay, as it has ample supplies to help them survive the breakdown of civilization caused by the increasing number of infections). While Nathan spends time staring at her or holding her while she falls asleep, there isn’t much description. I want to be shown how strong their relationship is. I want to see the tremble in her lips or the way her eye twitches when she’s scared. I wished more of the word count used in the first half could have been applied to the second.

In the end, Nathan decides to try to save her, though there is no known cure for the infection. He finds supplies and gasoline to run the asylum’s generator, locking her in her room so she can’t hurt herself while he goes for help. Though I was 95% of the way through the book, I couldn’t help but feel just a bit detached from the characters, and only because I had been “told” the way they feel for the whole novel, rather than being “shown” how they feel and letting me come to the conclusion on my own that they are deeply in love, despite the infection. I felt sorry for Nathan’s situation, but not for Nathan himself. And not really caring about a protagonist is a problem for me.

It was not a bad novel, but it wasn’t the most compelling I’ve read. The author certainly has talent, though, and I would read other books by him. Perhaps just a bit more polish, less repetition, and more “showing.”

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