Jonathan Friesen’s upcoming thriller Unfolding is an intriguing look at atonement for past crimes through the lens of a town’s darkest secret. Using the paranormal mixed with liberal biblical references, one small town, Gullary, is the setting for an ominously emotional story about guilt, punishment, and redemption.
Jonah has always wanted Stormi, the uniquely beautiful girl dropped next door as an infant by a tornado. The same tornado destroyed the heart of town when it demolished the supermax prison that now employs only one person: Jonah. His work involves taking care of Tres; the solitary prisoner remaining, imprisoned for an unknown crime and somehow linked to the town’s darkest secret.
Jonah is his own kind of prisoner. Feeling alienated from others by a body that has physically failed him, he struggles daily with severe scoliosis and epilepsy that he refers to as Old Rickety. I picked up this book specifically because Jonah has epilepsy. I too have epilepsy and was interested in his ability to relate life as a teen with a disability. Depressingly, tired tropes about epilepsy litter the story. The sudden arrival of Jonah’s seizures, while in the story work as another harbinger of familial punishment, are painfully delivered. I like to believe that my epilepsy is far from a punishment and definitely not a harbinger of evil spirits, but this is how it is portrayed in the story. To press this point, his seizures mysteriously disappear once his family atones for their crime. Even the fulfillment of his love for Stormi, which only occurs after his seizures disappear, implies his newly found worthiness for love. While I have often wished that my seizures would mysteriously disappear, I also realize that my seizures are part of who I am, having them disappear does not make me more worthy of love. It is rare to find a book where epilepsy appears, but to find it used as a plot device trivializes what it means to live with it daily. Epilepsy and disabilities should not be exploited to make characters more sympathetic or drive the plot of a story.
Far from a simple read, this strange tale circles around an epic confrontation leading the reader to question when do the ends justify the means. I would answer never through the trivialization of disabilities.
Note: I received this book from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review