Forgive me for not having a pretty photo of this book as the cover for this post – due to the stay at home order and pandemic happening, libraries are closed and I’ve run out of physical books to read! Of course, I have a rather large pile of books that I own that are unread, but sometimes you’re just not in the mood for those, ya know? I’ve moved on to my Kindle and while I’m an advocate for supporting libraries and bookshops and would much rather read a physical book, I have to say it’s been a nice breath of fresh air to charge up the Kindle again. Plus – I’ve purchased 5 books total for no more than $10 on Amazon’s Kindle deals page…score!
Anyway – I’ve been reading a ton of historical fiction lately and to say I’m burnt out is an understatement. Reading about sadness and darkness while living in a very scary and unknown time just didn’t mix well together. I read to escape reality, not to be reminded of it. Unspeakable Things is actually a book I’m on the wait list for at my library so when I saw the e-book was only $1.99 on Amazon, I jumped all over that. I teetered between a 3 and 4 star rating and I’ll tell you why.
This book was highly disturbing; I mean, disturbing in the sense that I was grossed out and disgusted most of the book. It’s one of those stories I couldn’t put down and needed to keep reading to find out what happens next.
Set in the ’80s in rural Minnesota and based on a true story from the author’s hometown, Unspeakable Things is told thru Cassie’s point of view, a twelve year girl who is poor and brilliant and begs for her parents approval. Although the protagonist is a teen, don’t be fooled into thinking this story is anything close to young adult because I can assure you, it is not. Cassie and her slightly older sister Sephie are extremely close; they know how to read one another without speaking and can communicate with a single look. Their life isn’t easy; they live with an abusive father, both mentally and sexually, and a mother who turns a blind eye. Their parents hold ‘swinger parties’ where the young girls witness disgusting acts, often witnessing their own parents’ involvement with other people. They live their life with their head down, knowing not to question or speak of what occurs in their household. They dodge their dad’s sexual, aggressive and deviant eyes while remaining hopeful that one day their mom will gather to courage to leave him.
It’s almost summer vacation when news breaks through town that young boys are being kidnapped and sexually assaulted by an unknown man. When they return, they’re changed; they’re disturbed and scared and haunted. It’s happening to Cassie and Sephie’s friends and Cassie is determined to get to the bottom of it herself. She knows the police won’t investigate, as she’s witnessed what the local chief policeman does to other people’s wives in the bedrooms at her parents’ parties.
On a mission to save the boys in her town and capture the monster that is wreaking havoc in the community, Cassie uncovers more than she bargained. Who can she trust when her own dad looks her in the eye, forbidding her from entering his basement because after all, “basements are where men keep their secrets”.
Unspeakable Things is a haunting story that genuinely gave me the chills; on one hand I was totally annoyed and disgusted with Cassie’s parents and their lack of parenting enraged me. On the other hand I fell in love with Cassie; she was wise beyond her young years, sweet and kind despite her life, and she desperately just wanted to be loved. I wanted to reach into my Kindle and hug her fiercely – the poor girl lived a nightmare day after day with zero guidance or protection.
I will say, I hated the ending, which is where my 3 star rating originally comes into play. It was abrupt, confusing and left me completely startled at the amount of loose ends gone untied. After reading many other Goodreads reviews (my favorite past-time), I discovered that the author released the epilogue on her website and omitted the piece from the book so that readers can form their own ending for each character’s lives. I thought it was a unique way to end a story and definitely different, although I’m not sure it did any good to leave out such an important piece. Luckily I found out about this hidden epilogue because it wrapped up the story so cleanly, bumping up the rating to a 4 star. If you finish this book, be sure to head over to the author’s website for the full epilogue but only do so AFTER you finish, as it contains spoilers.
All in all, Unspeakable Things was unlike any book I’ve read; the story and its characters have stayed with me for a few days and left me pondering many things, including the ending. In my opinion, that’s always a sign of a good, well-written book.