Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Review: Unwrap My Heart by Alex Falcone and Ezra Fox

When I first scammed a free review copy of Unwrap My Heart, I wasn't sure what I was getting myself into. Sure, co-authors Alex Falcone and Ezra Fox have shown, across hundreds of episodes of the Read It and Weep podcast, that they are great at dissecting bad books. But, as I discovered about halfway through performing my own knee surgery to save money, putting things together is a lot harder than taking things apart.

Unwrap My Heart is a YA supernatural parody romance, first conceived on the Read It and Weep podcast. The book is narrated from the perspective of high schooler Sophia, who finds herself falling in love with the new guy Seth—who's pretty obviously a secret mummy. The sunken, hollow eyes and bandages are a bit of a giveaway, though most people pass it off as a hipster affectation. Sophia, for her part, is accident prone to the point of constant self-endangerment, so vacuous that you wonder what Seth could possibly see in her, and entirely unperturbed as Seth graduates from creepy stalker behavior, to infantilizing her, to outright manipulation by selective refusal to communicate.

If any of this sounds oddly familiar, it's because Unwrap My Heart rarely strays from its chief well of parody: the Twilight series by Stephenie Meyer. Even when it does depart, it does so with a nod (or perhaps a middle finger) to the popular series about a hundred-year-old vampire dating a teenage girl. Take the moment when Seth clears up some confusion regarding his own age:

"We're basically the same age. Which is good, really. Monster or no, if I was hundreds or thousands of years older than you this would be a really troubling relationship."

But is Unwrap My Heart any good? And have I been stalling on answering that question, in the hopes of screwing with the authors' heads, playing upon their emotional and artistic investment for no better reason than my own sadistic pleasure? The answer to both questions is a resounding "yes," and if you've forgotten what the first question even was, let me reiterate: I loved every page of this wonderful little book.

The voice of Unwrap My Heart is reminiscent of the playful, sarcastic tone of a Read It and Weep episode, and I was pleased to discover that the authors' skill at podcasting is matched by a skill for novel-writing. The book has a coherent, satisfying, and well-paced plot. The prose is smooth. The jokes come frequently enough to keep you chuckling, but not so thick as to take you out of the story, or to turn it into a hollow farce. Against all odds, a couple of podcasters decided to base their first novel on an off-hand joke from the show, and somehow managed to create a real page turner.

The one area where the book falls short is in the characters. While they are undeniably interesting, for the most part they aren't terribly engaging. Considering the book's core purpose—to satirize the genre and make a mockery of fantasy writers tapping ever-more-outlandish creatures for teenage girls to have a problematic romance with—it's hard to fault the authors for this. But I will fault them, both because they chose their premise and now must live with it, and because it turns out I'm kind of a jerk.

The great shortcoming in the characters is that, for the most part, they're simply not characters. Instead, they're jokey reflections of characters from other books. Sophia's dad is warm-hearted, devoted, and rocks an amazing mustache because the dad in Twilight has these traits. Motivations and hobbies seem to exist solely to service a joke or reference. I could easily forgive this if the book was a farce through and through, but there's a welcome thread of sincerity weaved into its pages which makes you want to care about these characters, while the characters themselves give you little to care about.

But this is not a fatal flaw. Despite the weak characters, Unwrap My Heart is an absolute delight to read. It's a balm for these trying times and an antidote to the abusive romances found in so much bestselling YA fiction. I found myself staying up late, walking to the store with my nose buried in my Kindle, and reading in a parked car for so long that my neighbors worried I was having a stroke, because I just couldn't put it down.

In short, I highly recommend this book and I can't wait to see what these folks cook up next.

Unwrap My Heart will be available December 1st, 2016 on Amazon and through the book's website at

Note also that familiarity with the Twilight series and other books in that genre is not required to enjoy Unwrap My Heart, but if you really want to brush up on it, the Read It and Weep crew have you covered with the extensive review that kicked off their podcast.

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