The Unnameables

I’ve realized over the years that I’m a peculiar reader. Peculiar in that I’m not entirely sure what will and what will not strike my fancy, especially my fiction fancy. I’m not a literature snob, reading only the Great Books, but neither do I seem easily contented to wander the wide fields of whole genres. Which makes it difficult for me to find books that really swallow me up, even as that’s one of the great pleasures of my life since I was very young. So, it was with a rare delight that I enjoyed reading The Unnameables by Ellen Booraem.

First the description, then a little review.

Medford lives on a neat, orderly island called—simply—Island.

Islanders like names that say exactly what a thing (or a person) is or does. Nothing less.

Islanders like things (and people) to do what their names say they will. Nothing more.

In fact, everything on Island is named for its purpose, even the people who inhabit it. But Medford Runyuin is different. A foundling, he has a meaningless last name that is just one of many reminders that he’s an outsider. And, to make matters worse, Medford’s been keeping a big secret, one that could get him banished from Island forever.

When the smelliest, strangest, unruliest creature Island has ever seen comes barreling right into his rigid world, Medford can’t help but start to question the rules he’s been trying to follow his entire life.
A whimsical fantasy debut about belonging, the dangers of forgetting history, and the Usefulness of art, The Unnameables is one of the funniest stories of friendship you’ll ever read, with a cast of characters you’ll never forget.

I’ll be honest. When I picked this book I did so because I thought it had an intriguing message of being yourself in midst of society’s attempt to define. After ordering it, but before receiving it, I began to get worried. Because it had an intriguing message of being yourself in midst of society’s attempt to define.

That, I thought, is a sure recipe for a book that is beloved by teacher’s organizations, book award clubs, and other such fine folks who tend to see a message being much more important than story, writing, or imagination. In other words, where the moral of the story is so obvious it’s pretty much a given a book should be called unreadable.

The UnnameablesI was wary.

And I was pleasantly surprised.

Booraem has accomplished a brilliant task, offering a story with a clear moral without being overbearing or blatant about it. Indeed, she helps create a unique world that echoes aspects of our own, but certainly has rather strong differences. Indeed, these strong differences make The Unnameables more of a fairy tale story rather than an attempt to show a direct picture into our society.

As the story went on it we are pushed deeper into this world, caught up in the characters, some usual and some wholly unique. We quickly move past the expected “Footloose” plot where young, creative teenagers show the adults about having fun. Instead, the story moves deeper, where there is no generational line, and where we see a wonderful creative exploration of a society’s tradition, history, and culture.

Booraem has a moral to the story, but is not preaching, nor is she drawing lines in the sand against religious, cultural, or other societal standards. What she is saying is be true to who you are, and this goes for those religions, cultures, and standards. It is when these standards have lost sight of their own foundations there is distortions, distortions which sadly then take over the whole movement.

But even as I write that last paragraph I feel awkward, because that sounds so dry and ‘full of message’ like a heartwarming episode of our favorite family sitcom.

It’s not that. It’s so much more enjoyable. Booraem has walked a very fine line in her writing giving us both a message while avoiding becoming overbearing. More than that, she has penned a very readable book. That’s why I gave it five stars. I realized not too far in that I kept wanting to come back to it, I couldn’t put it down, and I was for a long while absolutely lost in this story that has a wonderful mix of identity crisis, detective story, fantasy, and even humor.

Honestly, this is one of those books that I think was marked as young adult fiction more because of the age of the main characters. It is directed towards those 10 and up, and probably would be more enjoyed by kids and adults who themselves have a creative, introverted, side they have felt punished for.

Indeed, The Unnameables a great book for artists of all ages, and I highly recommend it as a fun read.

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