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Book Review: “Unwritten” is a reader’s paradise under construction

Let’s imagine for a moment that you’re surrounded by all of your favorite characters, no matter what genre or time period they’re from. Seeing all your beloved characters in one place is making you smile, isn’t it? Who doesn’t want to see the likes of Lizzie Bennett and Harry Potter all in one place?

That’s exactly what Alicia J. Novo intends to do so. Her debut YA novel “Unwritten,” set to release in May 2021, is a young reader’s paradise. Beatrix Alba, a bullied teenager from middle America, hides her ability to speak to books and a dangerous power lurking inside of her. After a spell fails to hide her and a chance encounter with a handsome stranger, Beatrix is transported to Zweeshen, a world where all stories and characters coexist. Sounds like paradise to me!

But of course, Zweeshen is not what it seems–the world straddles the line of destruction as someone begins burning–and essentially killing–book worlds and their characters. From there, we follow Beatrix’s journey to solve a mysterious riddle about her runaway mother with her motley crew of book characters.

From the very beginning, Novo’s world-building unfolds in magnificent form. The only way to truly describe the world of Zweeshen is utterly imaginative–all of the literary world’s favorite places, characters, and ideas all mashed up into a metropolis dictated by the written word, bureaucracy, and the magic that binds readers and writers together. The idea that all literary worlds and characters are connected is a reader’s dream come true despite the various world-building holes that will hopefully be filled in future installments. If I could escape to a world like Zweeshen, I think I would find all the happiness in the world.

Just a fair warning, readers will definitely need a pronunciation guide at some point–character names and places will leave readers falling over their own tongues by the end of the novel.

In addition to the world-building holes, there seems to be an abundance of plot holes, making it difficult to keep track of what the hell was going on between chapters. The chapter and plot jumping might just be me not paying close attention, but the sheer number of times I had to revisit a chapter is a bit concerning as a reader.

Possibly my biggest gripe with “Unwritten” is the minuscule connection I felt with Beatrix–or any other characters for that matter. I wanted so badly to relate to Beatrix beyond both of us being bookish, but the minimal character development and investment in the characters’ lives made it all the more difficult to relate. The novel is very much plot-driven, but Novo takes so much time diving into Beatrix’s loneliness and desires to find her mother that it seems plausible for there to be, at the very least, some character development.

For a novel with such a unique premise and setting, I expected more. Considering “Unwritten” is part of a larger series, I’m willing to let some of my misgivings slide, but I hope the paradise Novo has only started to build will be ready by the time the next installment comes out.

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