Book Review: The Unwanted By John Saul

Book Review: The Unwanted By John SaulThe central character in The Unwanted is a young girl called Cassie Winslow. Her parents are divorced and she has been living in California with her mother. When her mother dies in a car crash the 16-year-old has to move to the town of False Harbour and live with her father, step-mother, and half-sister Jessica. The Unwanted is not just a story about a young girl who has to come to terms with major changes in her life though. It’s a supernatural thriller and Cassie soon has much more to deal with than the loss of her mother and the need to settle into a new family.

Cassie is troubled by a strange recurring dream. In the dream she watches her mother drive past in a car. There is nothing strange about the car, but there is something very strange about Cassie’s mother. Her hair is the wrong colour. So are her eyes. In fact, she doesn’t look like Cassie’s mother at all, yet Cassie knows that it is. Her mother says something that Cassie can’t hear, and then stars laughing just before her car veers into one of the concrete supports of an overpass and bursts into flames. A dream like this might be understandable given the circumstances, but Cassie began having the dream while her mother was still alive.

The dream is unsettling, but in her waking hours Cassie has other problems to deal with. She is finding it hard to settle into her new school, many of her classmates do not accept her, and she is made to feel like an outsider. Her sister Jessica is glad to spend time with her though. The two girls are together the first time Cassie encounters Miranda. To Cassie, Miranda appears to be just an old bag-lady pushing a shopping trolley. Miranda also has a strange resemblance to the woman in Cassie’s dream, and Jessica—who believes Miranda to be a witch—warns her sister to look away from the old woman to avoid being cursed. Many of the children in False Harbour feel this way about Miranda, as do some of the adults. Others consider her a madwoman. Cassie has no fear of Miranda, nor does she pity her, but she does feel an instant connection.

As the story develops, Cassie is befriended by a grey cat called Sumi and a white hawk called Kiska. The teen also discovers she possesses some very unusual abilities that are a legacy from the past.

Things are changing in Cassie’s life. There are changes in False Harbour as well, and when people start getting hurt in circumstances that would baffle a logical mind, all eyes turn to Cassie, who retreats more and more to Miranda’s cottage in the marshes and the protective wings and claws of her new friends.

I enjoyed reading The Unwanted and found it easy to sympathize with Cassie’s character, even though, at times, I wasn’t sure whether or not a dark evil lurked inside her. It is hard not to sympathise with a young girl in such a situation, but a couple of other characters, who it was also easy to sympathize with, saw things in Cassie’s eyes that worried them. Their worries are then transmitted to the reader; so although I was behind Cassie all of the way, there were times when I wondered if I should be. I can’t remember if I have ever felt this way towards a central character before. It’s unusual, but I suppose it keeps things interesting.

Every good horror novel needs to have someone for the reader to hate and to add a little conflict to the story. I found three such people within the pages of The Unwanted, but I must admit that, when they finally got their just desserts, I felt a little sorry for them—which is also unusual. I think “unusual” is the key word that comes to mind when thinking about The Unwanted. Because of the kind of fiction I read, I am used to unusual things happening and unusual characters as well. I am not used to is not knowing whether or not I should be behind the characters, or whether I should feel sorry for them. That, for me, is unusual and it is what I will say about the book: it is unusual.

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