Book Review: Unravel

Edit: I’ve been informed that the psychiatry portrayed in this book actually is a good representation of the way it is practiced in North America… which leaves me a little stumped… But means that some of my criticism below is ungrounded.

Six months ago, I was happy. I was simply Naomi Carradine. One month ago, I was admitted into a psych ward. Yesterday, Lachlan visited me. Kissed me. And told me that I’m starting to lose my mind. Hours later, Max haunted my thoughts, reminding me I’m not crazy and that he needs my help. A few minutes ago, I drifted further from reality, trying to unravel the past. And now . . . everyone thinks I’m insane. But I know he’s real, and I know he needs me. Do you believe me?

I read this book for Mental Health Awareness Month, and I knew that it was going to be a challenge to read it not just as a reader, but also as someone who has a little bit of experience with the practical and theoretical side of psychiatry.

Unravel by Calia Read started really well. Naomi’s confusion was tangible, her fear was contagious, and I could understand why the book was labelled a psychological thriller. She even had symptomatology, so I thought that was VERY well done. One could pick up that something wasn’t quite right (even if you didn’t know the terms and definitions), but it was not glaringly obvious. Read really had one wondering whether Naomi is subtly psychotic or telling the truth.

Also, allow me to state the glaringly obvious: this is a fantastic cover. Simply amazing.

There were some inconsistencies, but I gave Read the benefit of the doubt here, because disjointed stories are pretty common in psychiatry.

But it unraveled (couldn’t resist) pretty soon after that.

In terms of writing style: I suppose in a way it came across as melodramatic and juvenile. Some parts were truly lyrical and there definitely is writing talent here, I just think it needs some polishing (as a non-author myself, I hate passing judgment on writing style though, so I’ll just stop there).

The sex-scenes didn’t do it for me. I have nothing against sex scenes in books, generally, but these were just… out of place, and a little purposeless at times. Also, there’s one part where she is basically telling her psychiatrist the entire sex-scene… what? No psychiatrist asks their patient to give in-detail descriptions of their sexual activities. Especially not the non-traumatic ones.

And that brings me to my biggest problem with this book, being the description of mental health services. I don’t think this will be a big problem to readers without prior knowledge. The description of mental health services is… misleading. And I could be a little wrong myself because I am not American, but if this book is truly an accurate reflection of mental institutions in the USA, then guys, y’all need more help than we do…

A few examples: it appears from early on that Naomi’s psychiatrist is the one doing all her sessions. No psychologist. No occupational therapist. Nada. Psych patients are seen by different practitioners of different professions precisely because they all have different approaches and so patients tend to reveal different aspects of their lives to the different practitioners.

It is very unlikely for a patient to sit around, bored, all day. The recognised practice is that patients in a mental institution need a set schedule, with sessions for exercise, creativity, and “own time”.

I thought on a diagnostic level the ending was too loose, but I’ll give the benefit of the doubt here too, because I’ve seen that diagnoses don’t read the textbook. Sometimes there are things that simply don’t make sense in Psychiatry.

Lastly, like many readers, I figured the twist out too soon. From that point onward I lost some interest.  It was no longer a psychological thriller and it was definitely not mind-fudgery. But I should add that to a lot of readers, it was. So you might still enjoy it.

Does this book have value for Mental Health Awareness? I have to say yes, but it is limited. I worry about the inconsistencies. I worry about the “quick fix” at the end. But in writing about mental health and aiding understanding: yes, and again yes.

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9 thoughts on “Book Review: Unravel”

  1. I have to admit, I’m intrigued. (The cover, omg, that beautiful gorgeous cover.) But a little wary. I’m not signed up to Mental Awareness Month or anything (I think there are sign ups???) but I few books that deal with Mental Health issues have fallen in my lap lately, so why not. I’ll read ’em. And the last one was just…it just wasn’t very right. I haven’t studied it or anything! But I know people who struggle…and it worries me when the end-game-message of these books is a bit off. Or maybe that’s just my opinion on the book! Haha! It’s difficult to review, them, I think.

    1. It’s very difficult to review them! I feel like your experience of the book ends up being entirely up to whether or not you have experience with the specific issue or not, and as I noticed with Unravel, it made it really difficult to focus on the rest of the story once I realised the inaccuracies. Then I just ended up pointing out more issues rather than enjoying the book. I suppose that’s the appeal in fantasy books, not having to compare it to knowledge of real life.
      I suppose the other part of it is to remember that mental health isn’t homogenous, and that one person’s experience of a specific mental illness might be very different to another person’s experience of the SAME illness. Mmmh… makes me think.

  2. Wonderful review! I’m really intrigued by this story! However, I am slightly put off by the things that aren’t quite right. I’d like to read a book that actually does justice to the mental health aspect it’s writing about, whether it’s the illness or the experience of being in a psych ward and treatment. I don’t know much about this kind of thing, and would like to have the correct information, rather than being mislead and believing something that’s wrong. Really unsure about this now. But it really is a beautiful cover! Thanks for the review!

    1. Thank you!
      Mmh, okay, let me elaborate: From an empathetic point of view, this book is valid. It really puts you in the shoes of someone who is experiencing things that she isn’t sure of whether it is real or not, and how nobody believes her and makes her feel crazy, and how different doctors’, nurses’ and friends can make one feel during a time of possible illness. From that point of view, it definitely has worth.
      It’s just that from a factual point of view I felt it was missing some things. I suppose it is fiction, and the author never promised that she was 100% accurate, and probably wasn’t writing with the idea of factual education but more telling a story and perhaps fostering empathy. My expectation going in was just that it would be more than that, which probably affected my experience of it.
      Oh, also, if you don’t like New Adult, you might not like this.

      1. I love NA, so that’s not a problem. 🙂 Ok, perhaps I’ll give this a go for the sake of the story, rather than the representation of life on a psych ward. If I do, I’ll definitely keep your review in mind and link to it regarding this area. Thanks for the clarification! 🙂

  3. Based on what I’ve seen of the psychiatry wards in Canada, I think the book might be reflective of the North American approach to inpatient psychiatry. Patients were mainly seen by their psychiatrist (or often their resident/medical student) and didn’t get much contact with other allied health professionals unless they were part of a specific support group (e.g. addictions, eating disorders, etc.) There also isn’t a lot of funding for activities, so patients didn’t have a lot of structured activities during the day, but rather spent a lot of their time alone in their rooms or watching tv.

    1. Seriously? Thanks for clearing that up. We don’t have much funding for activities either but somehow they still happen, as does contact with allied health professionals. That’s probably why our country is basically in the red.

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