"Sixteen-year-old Rinn Jacobs has secrets: One, she’s bipolar. Two, she killed her grandmother.
After a suicide attempt, and now her parents' separation, Rinn and her mom move from California to the rural Ohio town where her mother grew up. Back on her medications and hoping to stay well, Rinn settles into her new home, undaunted by the fact that the previous owner hanged herself in Rinn's bedroom. At school, her classmates believe the school pool is haunted by Annaliese, a girl who drowned there. But when a reckless séance goes awry, and terrible things start happening to her new friends—yet not to her—Rinn is determined to find out why she can’t be "touched" by Annaliese...or if Annaliese even exists.
With the help of Nate Brenner, the hunky “farmer boy” she’s rapidly falling for, Rinn devises a dangerous plan to uncover the truth. Soon reality and fantasy meld into one, till Rinn finds it nearly impossible to tell the difference. When a malevolent force threatens the lives of everyone she cares about--not to mention her own--she can't help wondering: who should she really be afraid of?
Annaliese? Or herself?" (from Goodreads)
The Unquiet by Jeannine Garsee
Rinn: For the most part I really liked Rinn. She's a complex character with deep-seated guilt pushed down inside her (some of which she's aware of, like feeling guilty about her grandmother's death). It seems to have come to the point where she doesn't trust herself, and yet she lashes out at other people for not trusting her. She's also got a snarky attitude and a bit of a chip on her shoulder, but she's quite frank and open about who she is.
Nate: Nate's a considerate, good-natured, easygoing, "average" kind of guy. He doesn't have much of a temper and not much fazes him. I thought he was really good for Rinn because she's a little impulsive and unstable at times (especially when she's not on her meds) and she needs someone in her life who's really steady and provides a calming presence. They bicker sometimes, but their romance was cute and I actually could have used a bit more of it — the mystery and ghostly incidents definitely take precedence here. I wish we had more cute scenes with them enjoying themselves, but there are always bad things happening so we don't see a lot of that. Often one or both of them is cranky!
Annaliese: I feel like we could have been given stronger motivations for Annaliese. Spoilers: it seemed a bit farfetched that everything she did was all part of a revenge scheme over this grudge that she had, dating back to her high school days. I suspected there might be some kind of connection there with the parents, though, so I appreciated that the author tried to tie that in, and that there was at least some explanation given.
In many YA books the adults are just thrust to the side as the storyline centers on the teens, but in The Unquiet the adults end up playing a fairly significant role, especially in the second half. Although some of the parents in here don't seem to notice what's going on with their kids — Meg's tinnitus and Lacy's headaches are prime examples — and wait way too long to take them into the doctor! (Not that it would actually help, but still.)
Frank: we don't get to see much of him, but it's obvious that Rinn genuinely likes and cares about her stepfather, and she's upset that he seems mad at her and apparently can't stand to be in the same house as her (because he blames her for his mom's death, or at least that's what Rinn believes). I like that even though he's no blood relation to her, she cares so much about her stepdad's opinion of her. Usually in step-parent–child relationships we're shown a lot of antagonism from the child toward the step-parent (they resent them for trying to take over the role of mom/dad in their life) but I'm not sure if Frank and Rinn ever had that source of tension in their relationship. Rather, she feels remorseful, as she at least partially blames herself, and she thinks that he blames her as well. Frank is like a dad to her and she wants him to love and trust her again.
I very much appreciate that The Unquiet features a protagonist who's already perfectly well aware of how her bipolar disorder affects her and is on medication for it. It's not about her discovering that she has bipolar disorder and getting used to that idea and how to treat it, as is so common in YA "issue books." Instead, The Unquiet deals with someone who has had lots of bad things happen in the past because of her bipolar, and she knows how she acts when she's not on her meds. I liked seeing the insight Rinn has into her disorder.
Jeannine Garsee cleverly ties in Rinn's mental health issues with the paranormal storyline, and we get to see her both on and off her meds. She stops taking them at one point to test a theory about what's going on with the ghost, which both allows us to see how Rinn behaves when not on her meds, but at the same time furthers the paranormal plot. Spoilers: people on medication for mental health problems aren't affected by the ghost; the medications serve as a sort of barrier. This is a bit of a stretch, yes, but you have to take some things in this book with a grain of salt anyway.
I liked the way the mental health issues were tackled. The Unquiet touches upon not only bipolar disorder but also (to a much lesser degree) suicide and bullying, and it was neat to see these issues being addressed in a paranormal novel. The paranormal elements probably end up taking up more "screen time" but the author manages to provide a fairly good balance of both. Bipolar disorder is certainly a significant part of Rinn's life, and as far as I can tell the bipolar aspects are presented quite accurately. Rinn's description of how she acts when not on medication, and what we see from her when she (for a short time) stops taking her meds, is in line with the sort of "acting out" behaviours that people with bipolar may demonstrate. It is a little difficult to tell, though, what is due to Anneliese and what is the effect of Rinn's bipolar (which may be intentional).
The bullying and related high school teen behaviour is also believably portrayed. Jeannine Garsee captures well just how spiteful and cruel teens can act to each other, and how shortsighted and impulsive they can be.
It's a little confusing to follow because of the ghostly happenings, as well as that at one point Rinn stops taking her meds, which makes her less reliable as a narrator. As I read, it felt like the plot was meandering and not very coherent, because all of these seemingly unrelated incidents were occurring (that turn out to be related after all).
Compared to the well-done characterization, the paranormal plot is a weaker aspect of The Unquiet. Jeannine Garsee follows a traditional representation of ghosts, which is executed well but doesn't explore anything too different from what's been done before. We don't ever really get a full, satisfying explanation of all the mysterious events. The ghost seems to have a lot of powers without restrictions: she can move around, possess people, make them see hallucinations... and I prefer it when there are specified limits on a fantastical being's powers. Otherwise, too much power is given to the paranormal elements to just explain away all the unusual occurrences.
The climactic scene was not particularly impressive. I really dislike it when the magic that is being used to vanquish evil is vaguely described, and that was the case here. Honestly, I couldn't even tell you what happened exactly because it's so confusing. Spoilers: Rinn throws her arms around the ghost and squeezes her and they're fusing together, and then it's like the ghost devours herself?
The book ended on a perfect note, though — just creepy and unsettling enough to make you think it's not quite a happy ending.
Final verdict: 3.5 shooting stars. It's a pretty dark read, and I really liked the concept of combining a paranormal plot with a character who has mental health issues. A stronger climactic scene and better explanations would definitely have improved my rating.
Disclaimer: I received a copy for review from the author.