All Unquiet Things centers around the murder of teen heiress Carly Ribelli, who was found shot to death a mile from her house in a wealthy Northern California suburb. Carly’s uncle, a dissolute alcoholic, was convicted of the crime, but a year later his daughter still doesn’t believe her father is guilty. Determined to prove his innocence, Audrey Ribelli contacts Carly’s ex-boyfriend, Neily Monroe, the boy who found Carly’s body. She is convinced that he knows more than he thinks about the events that led up to Carly’s death. Despite Neily’s initial reluctance, he and Audrey begin their investigation at the posh private school they attend, identifying prime suspects from among their spoiled classmates and digging up secrets about Carly’s past to get to the truth behind her murder.
All Unquiet Things was released by Delacorte Books for Young Readers (Random House) on January 12, 2010. You can also purchase the All Unquiet Things audiobook, available from Listening Library.
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“An intriguing puzzle from a welcome new voice in psychological suspense.” – Nancy Werlin, New York Times bestselling author of Impossible
“With smooth assurance, Jarzab transforms what could have been a formulaic story of boarding-school students behaving badly into a fresh, compelling tale. Part mystery, part character study, the story hooks readers immediately, propelling them through a serpentine path of secrets and lies. Seventeen-year-old Neily found the body of his ex-girlfriend, Carly, on the Empire Creek bridge. A year later, Carly’s uncle is imprisoned for the crime, but neither Neily nor the victim’s cousin, Audrey, is convinced that he is the murderer. Forming an often-acrimonious partnership, the two teens narrate the chapters in alternating voices as they follow the clues to a nail-biting conclusion and discover the truth not only about the murder but also about themselves. The characters are distinct and memorable, but it is Neily who stands out with a pitch-perfect, sarcastic voice and a personality that surges from the pages of this promising debut.” – Booklist
“Neily Monroe is struggling to adjust to life following the murder of his ex-girlfriend Carly and the guilt he feels for not responding to her final attempts to reach him. Their breakup had been especially painful and embarrassing for Neily. When Carly’s cousin Audrey suggests the real killer is still at large, he thinks she is just trying to clear her father, who is serving time for the crime. Gradually, the two find clues in Carly’s diary that make someone else a plausible suspect. What had appeared to be a family tragedy triggered by a dispute over money now threatens to expose the darker side of an upscale and privileged clique. This is a sophisticated teen mystery, more introspective than action-oriented. Told as it is through the voices of both Neily and Audrey, readers get to know as much about the troubled girl they both loved as they do the principals. The adults are well drawn, and the impact of their unresolved issues intriguing. Less successful as a mystery than as a subtle look at family tensions and entitlement, at which it excels. (Mystery. 14 & up)” – Kirkus
“Jarzab’s strong debut tracks teenage Neily and Audrey’s investigation of the murder of 16-year-old Carly—Audrey’s cousin and Neily’s ex—in an affluent San Francisco suburb one year after Audrey’s father is convicted of the crime. Neily is a bright, cynical senior at Brighton Day School; bitter after being dumped by Carly, he didn’t return her calls on the night of her death and still blames himself. Audrey, who has returned to Brighton after “a self-imposed exile,” badgers Neily into helping clear her father’s name (“I can tell that behind that weak Holden Caulfield affectation is a spongy, leaking heart desperate for some sort of closure”). The story shifts between Neily and Audrey’s points of view, but only a few times, letting readers sink into each character’s mindset—painful, unhealed wounds are evident underneath both Neily’s clinical, sarcastic exterior and Audrey’s more open, confident manner. It’s a slow-building, slow-burning mystery—Jarzab is as interested in probing Neily and Audrey’s emotional states and the ramifications of Carly’s murder as she is in solving it—but the author’s confident, literary prose makes for a tense and immersive thriller.” – Publishers Weekly
This rich, psychological mystery opens with 17-year-old Neily Monroe standing on the bridge where, a year earlier, he found Carly Ribelli’s body. Having gone from being her best friend to her boyfriend to a piece of detritus she left in her wake, it’s no surprise that he is having trouble “getting over” Carly’s murder. Nonetheless, he is determined to somehow make it through high school and move on. Then the school year starts and Neily is approached by Carly’s cousin, Audrey. Since her father was convicted of the murder, Neily is surprised that she would come back to school. As it turns out, she is there to find out who really murdered Carly, and she is determined to have his help. The narrative alternates between the teens’ perspectives, though Neily’s voice–sarcastic and insightful–is the stronger of the two. The portrayal of the cliquey private high school is familiar but not clichéd. A satisfying story from a promising new author.–School Library Journal
“[A] complex, smart, and disquieting debut.” – The Compulsive Reader
Frequently Asked Questions:
How did you decide that you wanted to write a mystery?
The mystery chose me. Honestly, I never thought of myself as a mystery writer, but that’s what happened. I’m not really one for meandering books. I want the books that I read to have plots, because I think that it’s in the doing of things that the meat of existence (human emotion, intention, personality, character, thoughts, etc.) comes to life. A plot is like the backbone of a book, with all the flesh and blood and raw nerve endings wrapped around it. A mystery, due to the very nature of the genre, has to have a plot. Maybe that’s one of the things that drew me to it. Otherwise, I can’t say, but there’s a big part of me that relates to the job of an investigator. I love knowing things and finding things out. It could be that, too. Also, I read a lot of Agatha Christie growing up.
Was it difficult to plot out all the twists and remember who was where when, etc?
Extremely difficult. We went through several rounds of revisions of the novel before we even submitted it to editors, and then two rounds afterwards, and every time I looked at the manuscript I found an inconsistency. Every. Single. Time. Mysteries are hard to write and I’m not quite sure mystery writers get their due for pulling off the truly great ones. I think everything’s fine now, but it involved a lot of planning, and even then it involved a lot of vigilance and tweaking.
Why did you set the story in California?
I really tried to set it in Illinois, but the landscape of the town in my mind was absolutely Californian. Maybe that’s because I was living there when I wrote the book the first time, but mostly I feel like this book belonged there. The San Ramon Valley is the book’s spiritual home, which sounds nuts, but there you are. I’m sort of mildly obsessed with California now that I no longer live there, which is ironic, since I moved there with plans to absolutely despise it, and did for many years, but now I have these romantic feelings about it that are mostly the result of nostalgia. I think, though, that All Unquiet Things can be quite critical of it at times, and that reflects a lot of how I felt when I was living there. It’s not all blue skies and ocean breezes. I half wish I’d pulled off setting the novel in Illinois, because then the town name abbreviation would be EV, IL. (!!!)
What sort of research did you conduct for the book? Did you visit local prep schools? How did you achieve the color and ambiance of NorCal?
I didn’t have to do so much research, because I was writing about teenagers in Northern California and I had been one only a few years before. I still had to look up a few things, like whether or not you can directly inherit money if you’re a minor in the state of California (you can’t). I had to choose a gun for the murder weapon, I had to research illegal drugs and their medical effects. But writing about California came really easily to me. Even though I technically lived there a lot longer, I think it’d be hard for me to write about Chicago in the same way. Something about transitioning from child to adult in California made a really big impression on me. I spent A LOT of my college years driving up and down the 5 to Los Angeles, Fresno, San Diego, Santa Cruz, Carmel, San Luis Obispo. You learn a lot about California by driving. There’s a Christian prep school down the street from my parents’ house, and in my head Brighton Day School is a combination of it and the high school I graduated from (which no longer looks the way it did when I went there, in fact it looks considerably more like Brighton). I pulled a lot of Empire Valley from right where I was living.
Was there ever a time when you thought, “How do I make the murder mystery genre fresh?”
I never really thought about it. My only thought was, “How do I write this book and not burn out or embarrass myself?” I hope people think it’s fresh, but I really don’t know. I just wanted to make it true. In the sense of capital T True, anyway. Obviously, it’s fiction.
What was your inspiration for placing your characters in such a high social class setting?
The honest answer to this question is that people who have money get away with a lot more than people who don’t. This is just an obvious fact of human existence. I’m also sort of interested in the idea of the rotted log, which looks fine until you step on it and it crumbles to pieces because inside everything has decayed. All Unquiet Things takes its title from Canto III, stanza XLIII of an epic poem called Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage by George Gordon, Lord Byron. That stanza talks about powerful people and how even though the world envies them, inside they are rotted through, and if you could only see the truth of what they are you’d never, ever want to be them. So here you have this nice, well-off town that has an enclave of wealthy people who seem to have these great lives. These kids have everything they could ever want, they go to this nice prep school, they drive fancy cars and get away with far more than they should. But there’s something fundamentally wrong underneath all the glamor. I found that really interesting, and it was a very hospitable setting for the story I wanted to tell.
Did you try to attain crossover appeal between YA and adult fiction readers? If so, how?
I just wrote the book the way I wanted to write it and didn’t think about things like that. I hope that both teens and adults like All Unquiet Things, I really do, because I think each community of readers has something to bring to the experience of reading the book that is valuable. The book is certainly done up to appeal to both age groups, which is something I wholeheartedly support. I’d like as many people as possible to read it, but I didn’t write it to have crossover appeal, no.
Will there be more ALL UNQUIET THINGS?
I don’t think so. I have this weird idea for a sequel with Neily and Audrey in college, and I might even write it one day (I’ve started it, but haven’t gotten too far). If I do end up finishing it, I might self-publish it–I’m not sure the market will really support an actual printed version, but it would be fun for like four people to read if they wanted to.
How long did it take you to write ALL UNQUIET THINGS?
From spark to finished manuscript, it took six and a half years, but it only took me two years to write the second version.
What books influenced ALL UNQUIET THINGS?
I’ve been thinking about this a lot, and the book that I think heavily influenced AUT is Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte. There aren’t really any literal comparisons, and I didn’t realize this until after I was done writing it so it was in no way conscious, but the character of Jane Eyre (and some Bronte scholars might disagree with this assessment, I don’t know), according to my interpretation, is actually full of rage, and in some ways it’s totally obvious and in some ways it’s completely subtle and I see that buried anger in Audrey especially. I always say that Audrey is angrier than Neily, and people tend to disagree with me because Neily is very open about his feelings and Audrey isn’t, which is what makes her anger all the more, I don’t know, sinister in some ways. She’s not a cipher–I hate ciphers–but she’s buried her anger so deeply that even she can’t recognize it, but actually, to me, she’s enraged. Think about her life so far, what an abandoned child she is, and try to imagine not being angry about that. Her main motivation in the story, to find Carly’s killer, is anger, while Neily’s is love, and I think some people would say that the opposite is true, but I disagree, although both points are equally valid.