________________ CM . . . . Volume XXII Number 10. . . .November 6, 2015


Unleashed. (Retribution).

Sigmund Brouwer.
Victoria, BC: Orca, 2015.
160 pp., pbk., pdf & epub, $9.95 (pbk.).
ISBN 978-1-4598-0730-3 (pbk.), ISBN 978-1-4598-0732-7 (pdf), ISBN 978-1-4598-0733-4 (epub).

Grades 7-11 / Ages 12-16.

Review by Callie Martin.

***½ /4

Reviewed from Advance Reading Copy.


I opened my hand and showed him the blisters that were so painful they were turning my hands into claws. He was a brilliant man, and it would be futile to try to hide them from him.

“Grabbed a Bunsen burner that I thought was cold,” I said. I tried to make a joke. “It got me out of chemistry class at least.”

“Don’t miss too much class,” Winchester said. “No mark lower than a ninety seven. At least one of my sons should be able to make our family proud.”

Some fathers might have shown concern about whether or not I was getting treatment for the burns.


In a modern day world dominated by “young adult” (i.e. tween/teenager) fiction, where teenaged protagonists fight everything from totalitarian governments to sparkly vampires and obvious love triangles, Brouwer’s Unleashed steps away from the traditional dystopian world of fiction many of us have become too accustomed to for the last decade and plunges us into modern-day Vancouver. Here we are told the story by Jace, a teenaged boxer with a secret double-life who seeks to uncover a secret about his mentally abusive father, pretentiously (and hilariously) named “Winchester” (a possible reference to the town in Canada). Unleashed is one book in the “Retribution” trilogy, which consists of two more books written by fellow authors Natasha Deen and Judith Graves. Each follows the lives of Jace’s fellow teenaged partners, Raven and Jo. It’s an interesting concept as the publisher claims the books can be read in any order—highly unusual for a trilogy of any kind, but an interesting concept nonetheless.

     Credit must be given to Brouwer for his ability to stay within the mind of a teenaged boy in a realistic way. Too often in YA fiction, an adult author writes with a noticeably “adult” voice, primed from years of doing taxes and raising children to remember what it was like to be one themselves. Though there is a maturity to Jace that extends beyond most teenaged boys, it was not found to be excessively “adult”, and Brouwer did not commit one of my most despised YA sins of attempting to cover an older inner-voice with the excuse that the character is simply, “mature” or an “old soul”. Jace has moments of brilliance, such as his to play chess (which extends to his ability to out-think his opponents and friends alike), but they are countered by what I like to refer to as “arrogance syndrome”. Many YA authors attempt to set up an “Us vs. Them” mentality in their novels, where the young protagonist is often set against the adults and shown to be superior in every way, including mentally. Brouwer needs to be commended for not succumbing to this and showing Jace as having moments of realistic inferiority (such as not being able to convince a girl that it would be a good idea to kiss him, for example). Intelligence is developed through time and experience, which is commonly forgotten in the world of YA writing, and good to see make a comeback with Unleashed.

     Not that Unleashed doesn’t run into some hiccups. If you are looking for a “meaty” book you can sink your teeth into and brood about to friends over dinner with, Unleashed isn’t for you. There is a “juvenile” quality to it which I partially attribute to having a teenaged narrator, and partially to being aimed at a teenaged audience. Descriptions occasionally read like Twitter ramblings (limited to 140 characters or less), and getting a meaningful picture in your head seems at times impossible, which is particularly infuriating at the beginning of the novel where readers are already a blank slate with nothing to go on. Brouwer gets more vivid with descriptions towards the end of the novel, but in this writer’s opinion, you want to skimp on the end, not the beginning. Writing a novel is like eating a five course meal— by the time you’ve reached dessert, you want to be satiated, not starving, which I found myself towards the end of Unleashed. This isn’t to say I didn’t appreciate Brouwer’s short chapter lengths and succinctness, but attention to detail and the ability to paint a vivid scene with only words is something I value greatly in literature, and sadly I was longing for it here.

     That being said, if you are between the ages of 12-16 and/or have an intense dislike of cliched YA fiction, Unleashed is definitely a read for you. The story never suffers from a sense of fatigue or dryness, and there is enough witty humour to keep even adult readers entertained. What it lacks in weight, it makes up for in vitality and energy that keeps you turning pages long after your fingers have tired, and I will definitely be interested in seeing what Brouwer has to offer in the future.

Highly Recommended.

Callie Martin is a graduate of the University of Ottawa and holds a Bachelor Degree in English. She is currently a Content Creator with Google and hopes to begin work on a Master’s Degree in September 2016.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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