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Book Review: The Insomniacs by Marit Weisenberg

Publisher’s Book Description: A sharp and romantic novel about two suburban teens who can’t sleep uncovering the secrets of their neighborhood by night. Think The Summer I Turned Pretty with flashes of Rear Window!

When seventeen-year-old competitive diver Ingrid freezes up and sustains a head injury at a routine meet, her orderly life is turned upside down. Now housebound and sedentary on doctor’s orders, Ingrid can’t sleep and is haunted by the question of what triggered her uncharacteristic stage fright.

The only thing she remembers about the moment before the dive is seeing Van, her neighbor, former best friend, and forever crush, on the sidelines. Then one sleepless night, she sees Van outside her window…looking right back at her. They tentatively begin “not sleeping” together every night but still living separate lives by day.

Ingrid tells herself this is just temporary, but soon, she and Van are up every night together, increasingly intertwined in helping each other put pieces of memory together. As Van works through his own reasons for not being able to sleep, both of them are pulled into a mystery that threatens to turn their quiet neighborhood into a darker place than they realized. 

Karen’s Thoughts:

I read this book yesterday and writing my review now while my thoughts are fresh. For the most part, I would highly recommend this book except an issue regarding consent and the power dynamics of age and position involved, which I will discuss in a moment.

The Insomniacs really grabbed me from the get go. Our main character, Ingrid, has suffered a major concussion in a diving accident and now she can’t sleep at night. She soon learn that estranged childhood friend and hot dude Van across the street also is having problems with insomnia. Van, having been through this issue before and having had counseling, knows a lot about the psychology of insomnia which leads to some interesting discussions about mental health and sleep tucked into this book.

The two soon realize that the reason they can’t sleep may be tied together by the same events and involve an abandoned house next door. So they spend their nights staring out Ingrid’s bedroom window which has the best view and bonding. Secrets are shared and old memories are dissected as they discuss why, exactly, Ingrid stopped hanging around with Van, Max and Wilson. The four of them used to be best friends but they day in which her father very publicly left was the day that changed everything.

On the surface, this book is a moody mystery about neighborhood secrets. But this book is really a deep exploration into emotions, identity, growing up and changing, and family dynamics. One of the things that I truly loved about this book was that it was raw, earnest and felt authentic. Some of the YA I read throws me right out of the narrative because the teens often seem like mini adults that have been arbitrarily and conveniently slapped with the YA label to make it marketable as YA; not so with The Insomniacs, these teens were realistically and messily plodding through complicated age appropriate feelings with the world awareness and experience of a 17-year-old. They were confused by the actions of others, they did things they knew were wrong and continued to do them because they didn’t have the tools to do them differently, and they made mistakes that negatively effected their relationships because, again, they didn’t have the emotional tools to do those things differently. In other words, they were authentic teens trying to figure out how to navigate a world of complex emotions and feelings.

The mystery element was intriguing from page one and it involves a lot of elements that are related for both Ingrid and Van. Every step of the way you want to keep reading to find out what, exactly, is happening in the house next door and why it’s keeping Ingrid and Van awake each night.

The book does involve a discussion about the age of consent and positions of power in an adult-teen relationship that I think could have been more fully addressed. Although a majority of the characters clearly condemn this relationship and parties are held accountable, the teen involved makes comments that seem to minimize or justify the relationship and that made me feel uncomfortable as someone who understands the power dynamics that are often at play here.

Most of the characters are presumed white and straight, though Van is a biracial teen with Japanese and white parents. Issues discussed include mental health, therapy, divorce and parental alienation, adultery, consent and abuse, drug use, and addiction. Family and friendship are big themes in this book as well. Bonus points because it involves a teen involved in a sport we don’t see mentioned much in YA – competitive diving – and it really looks deeply into the pressures that teens face academically and trying to get into college, including athletic scholarships. The Insomniacs really understands the complexity of teen life and the issues that they face.

At times this book reads like a long, languid dream, an apt mood for a book about teens who can’t sleep. It was different in pace and tone and incredibly intriguing. Plus, I liked the characters and wanted them to succeed on their own and as a couple who clearly should and wanted to be together. It’s definitely a deep and complex novel that takes on heavy teen issues with the gravitas I think that they deserve. Overall, I recommend this book, with the caveat that I would have liked to have seen the issues of consent more fully developed.

This book comes out September 1st from Flatiron Books