There are a lot of themes in young adult fiction, and a lot of them end up being rather repetitive when lined up next to each other. For some readers this is just fine, they don’t mind reading stories that follow similar tropes over and over. Other readers, like myself, enjoy it when something reaches out and surprises the reader in unexpected ways.
In The Unhappening of Genesis Lee the reader isn’t subject to some dreary dystopian wasteland, they aren’t exposed to a love triangle, and they aren’t bogged down by a massive amount of world-building that forces the story into a massive scale. This book keeps things intimate and at a smaller scale so the reader can dive right in, understand their surroundings, and get on with enjoying the story. Along with keeping things at a more manageable, smaller scale, the author adds a very intriguing plot device, asking the question, “What happens if someone can steal a portion of your memories, or even all of them, in the blink of an eye?” What happens then? What sort of life is a character forced to live if losing their memories is something they have to constantly fear?
Genesis Lee, usually referred to by the nickname, Gena, is a teenager in Havendale, a city founded for people like her that store their memories in objects such as bracelets or necklaces made up of Links. She is a Mementi, and if she loses possession of her Links then she’ll lose the memories stored inside of them. She cannot store her memories in her brain like the other, unaltered members of the city, known as the Populace. When Gena’s best friend Cora has two years of her memories stolen by a thief the police have yet to catch, Gena begins trying to track the thief down herself. Along the way she crosses paths with a charming young man named Kalan. She doesn’t remember Kalan, but he remembers her, and that’s when things begin to get very interesting for Gena as she realizes someone is not stealing her memories, but rather erasing just the portions that deal with Kalan.
Soon enough, Gena and Kalan are scrambling to find answers about who is stealing Links, who is wiping Gena’s memories, and who is behind the rising tensions on the streets of Havendale. As they uncover the mystery, piece by piece, they discover the answers hit much closer to home than they originally imagined.
What impressed me most about The Unhappening of Genesis Lee was the skill Shallee McArthur showed in weaving all of the different plot elements together to keep the story moving. There is the relationship tension between Gena and her best friend Cora, the budding romance between Gena and Kalan, the mystery of the Link thief, and what seems like a dozen other important details that really flesh Gena out as a character. The story is told from Gena’s point of view using a first person narrative, so there are a lot of fun observations, internal dialogue, and thought processes that McArthur uses to tell the story. Gena is quirky, a bit naive sometimes, and very determined. A recipe that seems more destined for disaster than heroics most of the time.
I did find the character of Cora to be a bit lightweight, and that took a little adjusting on my part. Cora is important to the plot because as Gena’s friend losing two years of her memory, there is a direct negative impact on Gena. However, Gena was so involved in so many other things that Cora did not receive as much screen time as I was expecting after the opening scene. However, Kalan did a great job of filling in the void I felt with Cora’s character. Kalan was dynamic, fun, and quite possibly my favorite character of the book.
The pacing of The Unhappening of Genesis Lee was really solid most of the time. There were a few scenes that I would have enjoyed a little more time inside of, but overall it was refreshing not having to be bogged down waiting for the next big piece of action to begin. On the whole, Young Adult fiction these days tends to suffer from a growing case of wordiness, and with this book, things happened, and they happened fast. Not every story can be told at the pace this book tells its narrative, but I’d rather read something with the pace this book has than some of the lumbering Young Adult offerings of recent years.
The Unhappening of Genesis Lee is the debut effort for Shallee McArthur and I think it serves her well as an example of the work she can do in the genre. Maybe it needs a tiny bit of polish in a few places, but the world of Young Adult fiction needs some new ideas, and this book serves up new and fresh ideas with wild abandon. I’d love to see what Shallee McArthur has on tap for her next endeavor, whether in the Young Adult genre, or elsewhere.