(Love the pretty simplicity of this cover!)
I'll be perfectly honest: it took me a minute to get into Life Unaware. But once the story really started unfolding, I was hooked and couldn't put it down until I found out what the heck was going on!
The main character, Regan, has a life that looks perfect from the outside. She goes to a private school where she gets good grades, is a shoe-in for the varsity cheerleading squad, is running for student government, and is Miss Popularity. However, no one sees the inside: Regan only strives for the cheerleading squad and student government because her mom demands it. She uses blackmail and rumors to stay on top of the social food chain because an anxiety disorder leaves her socially crippled. Then one day Regan's world comes toppling down. Someone has printed screen shots of her private texts and messages, where she planned vicious rumors to take down other girls at school. They've been distributed to everyone, and now they all know her two-faced moves. She's ostracized. She's cyberbullied. In other words: the bully has become the bullied.
More brutal honesty: I had a lot of trouble connecting with or sympathizing with Regan. Yeah, she's under a lot of pressure from her mom (who is a congresswoman) and has an anxiety disorder... but she was also really cruel. The book opens with her asking her best friends for help finding "dirt" on another girl that Regan can use to manipulate her way onto the cheerleading squad. It was hard to resist cheering for karma. But as the book progressed, I felt more and more pity for Regan. I think that she's one of the more complex characters I've found in YA recently. She makes mistakes and does downright bad things, but she's more than that: she also cares a lot about her best friend, and really does want to please her mom. She's strong: she keeps going to school after the incident instead of playing sick and staying home. I don't want to give any spoilers, but she continues to grow stronger and stronger in her actions as the book progresses.
Speaking of imperfect characters, I loved how all the secondary characters are also complex and real. After the whole printing-of-the-private-messages fiasco, Nolan is the only person who will talk to Regan. The reader might think this is a typical white knight set-up, but it turns out Nolan has a secret of his own. He's not perfect either. And Regan's mom: she's really, really career driven, and kind of comes across as mean at the beginning of the book. But as Regan grows and matures and changes, so does her mom. I feel like that's pretty unique in a YA book, isn't it? That the parent grows over the course of the story?
Overall, I think this book would be a great conversation-starter with teens about bullying and it's effects. Yeah, the ending wraps up a bit too neatly, but there definitely a few surprises to the plot to keep the reader interested.
*I received my copy of Life Unaware from the publisher in exchange for my fair and honest review. Thank you!