Sunday, June 24, 2012

Fact-Finding Failure: Unraveling

Welcome to my new feature, Fact-Finding Failures!  This is not something I'm happy about, but I feel like it really needs to be done.  There are books out there that just should not have made it past an editor.  The problem goes beyond typos, grammatical errors, or making vampires sparkle.  Those are all crappy, sure, but two of the three can be overlooked in the grand scheme of things, and the third is an author's odd world-building.

What I'm looking at with Fact-Finding Failures is the utter contempt of reality some authors have, when trying to write something realistically.  If you're going to write contemporary fiction, check your facts.  Heck, that goes for historical fiction and even steampunk as well.  Dystopian, cyberpunk, science fiction and fantasy have a bit more wiggle-room, but a good story doesn't require a complete suspension of disbelief.

These are books that are not going to make it on to the school library's shelf, because there is no literary value.  I can't objectively suggest them to my students.

Today's Fact-Finding Failure is Unraveling by Elizabeth Norris.

Synopsis: Just before the start of her junior year of high school, Janelle Tenner is fatally hit by a speeding pickup truck.  She is apparently revived by a loner from her class, Ben Michaels, who she's never talked to before.  But how?  She also snoops through her high-in-the-FBI father's files, and uncovers a mystery that may be related.

My Goodreads rating: 1 star, added to "Didn't Finish" shelf after roughly 60 pages

If you look beyond the plot holes through which one could drive a semi truck, this might not be such a bad book.  I enjoyed Janelle's narrative voice.  It was fresh and realistic.

But this review is focusing on what went wrong.  And that is the whole deal with the FBI.  It's so phony, I had to put the book down.

Problem: Janelle's father is a high-ranked member of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and has worked in the same office for her entire life.  He also discusses confidential information about open cases with his daughter.

Now, my knowledge of what's wrong with all of this is a bit from life experiences.  I used to play D&D (and other games) with an FBI agent.  He was only with the gaming group for a couple years, because he, like all FBI agents, moves around often.  It's a bit like the military in that regard, though he could turn down an assignment if he didn't want to move somewhere.

But anyone can find that out.  I fact-checked online, and found the same information at the FBI's career FAQ page.  To quote some relevant information from there, "All Special Agents are subject to transfer at any time to meet the organizational and program needs of the FBI. Special Agents accept the possibility of transfer as a condition of their employment."

In the case of Janelle's father, we're told early on in the story that he broke a high-profile, international case when he was a fairly new agent.  That he remained in the same office after that is a bit ridiculous, for both the reasons above, and because FBI agents, like other law enforcement officials, can burn out and likely don't stay in the same department of operations for their whole career.  Ignore what the crime shows on TV show you; most homicide detectives are only homicide detectives for a few years.  He's been the head of his unit in one city for nine years?  There should have been a transfer at some point.

As for sharing confidential information with his daughter ... ugh.  How about some common sense here?  It's improbable.  Not impossible, true.  Then-President Jimmy Carter's mention of how his daughter Amy thought the control of nuclear arms was an important election issue in 1980 comes to mind.  Both invoke a bit of a "face-palm" moment.  Perhaps what makes the sharing of information so bad in this book is that the father says that he can't discuss open cases - and then does so anyway.  I know that it's a young adult novel, and teens do tend to think their parents are idiots, but come on.

Tell me that this is in an alternate universe where nothing we know in our lives is true.  Then sure, there's no problem with the book.  Or prove me wrong.  I've cited sources, though; this probably isn't another case of "Why is a rhino charging through this zombie novel?"  (For the discussion of rhinoceroses and other animals in a zombie novel, please see my review and the ensuing comments regarding Dust & Decay.)  Discussions are always welcome.


  1. This is a fabulous feature. It seems like one of those where the author probably assumed that teens wouldn't care enough whether it was realistic. But I agree that fact checking is always best.

    Have you read Bree Despain's books? I like her series, but I was really annoyed that her first book was set in a suburb of Minneapolis that was right next to the suburb where I lived (practically across the street). There were so many glaring inaccuracies about the town that it kept me from enjoying the book as much. Other people must have called her out on it, because the other books didn't have as many specifics about the town. Maybe they read my review :-)

    1. Thank you!

      I have not read Bree Despain's books, but can certainly understand your displeasure with how she portrayed that particular suburb. Sometimes authors tweak things to suit their purposes, I get that, but if a setting is going to completely change, rename it.

  2. Honestly, I didn't care. I was along for the ride and I had a good time. Maybe it's because I'm a crime show addict and those things are never accurately portrayed. (I *lived* on L&O in college!) It just didn't bother me. I found the story fun and I wanted to figure out how she was going to unravel (see what I did there? ;o)) both mysteries.

  3. Arg. Stupid Google. Let's see if I can post this now that I'm officially logged in. ANYWAYS.. yeah, I totally didn't care. Maybe it's because I'm addicted to silly crime shows (well, I used to be before I had a kiddo)... the inaccuracies just didn't bother me. I was having fun the ride and enjoyed watching the mysteries unravel (see what I did there? hehe!). The audiobook narrator was good (I've found that a good narrator can save a book!). I actually wanted to know what happened so badly that I couldn't finish the audiobook. About 2/3 of the way through... I rushed off to the book store and bought a copy so I could finish it. :)

    Anyways, rambling. Yeah, meh. Didn't bother me in the slightest.

    1. You posted, I just have it set to moderate comments before publishing. :D