- The Unraveling of Mercy Louis by Keija Parssinen
Mercy Louis is a star, Illa is not. Mercy lead the basketball team to the championship game last season where they had an unheard of loss that weighs on her since. Illa is the team manager who passes through most of her days feeling utterly invisible. The book alternates between the two girls as they go through the last summer of high school and into their senior year. Both have complex relationships with their guardians with Mercy's grandmother convinced 12/31/1999 will be the end of days and Illa's mother trapped in a failing body after an explosion at the plant that had been the backbone of their small town.
The book opens with a grisly discovery by a store clerk of a dead baby. The discovery leaves all the town's girls marked as suspects based merely on the fact that they are females. This event is followed by a mysterious condition affecting teen girls starting with an uncontrollable tic in Mercy's arm. There are many themes here including the danger of religious fervor, the suffering of the town and its economy after the plant accident, and the confusing time of first loves.
I'm not sure if this is marked Young Adult, but it felt like it based on the text and not just because teens are at the forefront of the story. There's nothing wrong with that, some wonderful books are marketed as YA, but it seems to hold the book back. There are too many themes, all explored with too cursory of a stroke. Some things felt too cliche (ex. the plan developed by Mercy's hyper-religious grandmother) and I never felt the depth of character or plot that make me love a book. I was definitely more interested in Illa's path than Mercy's but neither compelled me to read excitedly, instead I picked up the book in an effort to reach the finish. It wasn't a bad book, but (in my humble opinion, an honest one not influenced by having gotten an advanced copy of the book for free from the publisher) it wasn't good either. Three (of five) stars.
Who might like this? I'd think it would do best with a younger crowd. It does have some sex in it, so if that's a problem then steer clear. It might appeal to people interested in how a powerful message can attract devotees who make dangerous decisions justified by complete, unquestioning belief. There's plenty of plot here so I think it would interest those who like action/plots but be less appealing to readers who focus more on fully fleshed out characters. It isn't a hard read so could be read in public situations (ex. on a train, in a coffee shop, etc)