I'm a big fan of Cat Clarke, so I was super excited to read Undone, though I was worried about how heavy and depressing it would be, being about suicide. Undone does have it's moments, but it's brilliant!
When a video of Kai is put online, outing his sexuality, he kills himself. Jem, his best friend is distraught. Not only is he her best friend, but she's in love with him, and the loss is more than she can bear. The only thing that is keeping her going is working out who outed Kai, and making them pay.
Kai commits suicide before the book starts, but we actually get to know Kai through Jem telling us about the past. We get to see how they met, and their whole childhood together, and the events that lead up to his death, so we get a real idea of who Kai is. At the very beginning I was reminded of the novel Good Girls by Laura Ruby, as both books deal with the same ideas, except in Good Girls, the main character is a straight female and doesn't commit suicide. As the book progressed, I was reminded of P.S. I Love You by Celia Ahern, as, before he kills himself, Kai writes letters to Jem, delivered after, to read each month for a year. Some of the letters are sweet, and some depressing. You get a real idea for how much Kai loved Jem - platonically - but also how much he's hurting from having everyone know he's gay, without him having any control over it. I was originally a little surprised at how quickly after the incident Kai commited suicide, not seeming to want to even try facing people and seeing if he could get through it, but Clake was inspired to write Undone by the Tyler Clementi case, who committed suicide shortly after internet bullies watched him with another man on webcam, so I understand it a little more now.
I didn't particularly warm to Jem, but Undone is one of those books where you don't have to like the main character to really enjoy the book. I didn't dislike Jem, I just didn't love her. Despite not being her biggest fan, I still had moments of sympathy for her, of relating to her, of respecting her, and of cheering her on. The cheering her on aspect might seem a little weird; the things Jem does to get her own back are quite severe, and I would be quite shocked and disturbed by her actions. Yet at the time of reading, I had just lost a friend of my own. It was for completely different reasons0, but the feeling that their gone and there's nothing you can do is just awful. Jem could do something - get revenge. It was all rooted in anger, despair and grief, and really wasn't the most healthy thing for her to do, yet I could completely understand, and because she could, I wanted her too, and was egging her on in my head.
Yet, as I said, there were things she did that were just unsettling and uncomfortable to me. Plus I had several theories, and if I was right, oooh, things were going to be bad. My theories were right, but in a surprising way, like "Oh, I hope it's not going to turn out that....", but didn't actually think that would be the way things turned out. So I was surprised when I turned out I Was right, and my heart just sank. It hurt to be right. It was just so awful. I was all teary, for more than one person, for the whole situation, and ugh, it was just so, so sad. And Jem is the cause of her own downfall, I think. She's so judgemental, and everything is black and white, she can't bring herself to see things differently, and she's like this even before Kai's death. For example, popular people are to be hated because, as they're popular, they're shallow and stupid and up themselves. Well, actually, maybe they're not? But she can't take a step back and look at things from a different angle. I believe it's this way of viewing things and people that ultimately causes all her problems.
Because most of the book is all about Jem's grief and her revenge, there isn't a huge discussion about sexuality, but throughout the novel you're completely aware that it's all about sexuality - Kai is dead, and he's dead because he committed suicide after an online homophobic attack. You're constantly aware of this, even if sexuality isn't brought up all that often. When it does come up, it's mostly in Kai's letters, with his thoughts on life because of his sexuality and after the online bullying.
"It's too hard. It's all too hard. It's not just the video. Jem, I don't think I could ever be happy in this world - a world where people are ashamed to admit who they really are.
I know what you're thinking, but I'm not ashamed of who I am. I happen to think I'm a fairly decent human being all things considered... But that's not enough to keep me going.
And you're not enough....What it comes down to is the fact that I'm not strong enough to be here anymore." (p187-188)
"You know what I wish? I wish more than anything that I wasn't gay. It's not as easy as I made it look you know.The other hard-hitting comment on sexuality comes from Jem, wishing things could be different, and wishes that they lived in a world where sexual orientation was such a non-issue, there wouldn't be any problem. Kai would never have been bullied, and he wouldn't have committed suicide.
There are things I never toldEverything's so much easier for you straight people. The world is set up to work in your favour and you don't even appreciate it." (p302)
"Kai and I would be living in a world where nobody cared about your sexual orientation. Being gay wouldn't be gossiped about or frowned upon - it wouldn't even be worth mentioning. It would just be a fact. A mundane sort of fact." (p488)And really, isn't that what we all want?
Undone is an awesome novel; it's tragic, it's powerful, and it really tugs at your heartstrings. The ending is just so unexpected, and completely knocked me for six. So heart-wrenching! I feel there is potential for a companion novel about one of the other characters in the book after the ending, a completely different story with different themes and issues. I wonder if Clarke would write it. Either way, I'm most definitely a huge Cat Clarke fan, and I am so excited for whatever she has for us next!
Thank you to Quercus for sending me a proof.
Published: 31st January 2013
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