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UNLEAVING follows 19-year-old Maggie, who decides to take time off from college in Carleton, Vermont after being sexually assaulted at a party and facing the social fallout of reporting it. Maggie moves in with her Aunt Wren, an artist who has not had a great relationship with her sister, Maggie’s mother, and lives in a secluded area. It is much harder than Maggie thought to heal, and Aunt Wren’s house brings its own complications into her life. While she’s caught up in these issues, Maggie begins to receive messages from a Carleton student that changes everything.


As a college student, Maggie falls into the older section of Young Adult fiction, but UNLEAVING does not quite fit the New Adult genre. While there are mature topics and a higher level of maturity among the characters, this novel includes many common YA themes. One of the most influential and memorable elements of this story is that it does not focus on romance in any way, which is a rarity in the YA genre today. Ostrom instead focuses primarily on Maggie’s healing and the development of those around her like Sam, her family and Linnie.


Containing intertwining stories that are realistic and inherently messy, the plot of UNLEAVING is wholly character-based. It brings together many characters who end up changing each other’s lives. Not much happens plot-wise, but Maggie and her aunt’s assistant, Sam, face many issues. Sam’s high school girlfriend, Linnie, ended up being one of my favorite characters, and her support of Maggie made me enjoy her character. Other aspects that I appreciated came from the book club Maggie joins. As an avid reader myself, I am always happy to see characters who are readers. I also could not help but appreciate the focus on family in this book. Not only is Maggie going through rough times, but her mom and aunt have their own history to work through, and the details slowly come to light throughout the story.

I began reading UNLEAVING with very few expectations or even in-depth knowledge of the plot, but it left me with a broader perspective on many issues. It is always worthwhile to read a book that leaves you more informed about the world. I was very quickly transported into the mind of Maggie and her troubles but never felt like I needed to put the book down because the content was too heavy. Even without an action-filled plot, I could not stop turning the pages. Ostrom created a book that is unique from any other books that I have read with similar themes. I recommend UNLEAVING to readers who enjoyed Amber Smith’s THE WAY I USED TO BE. Both stories are compelling and bound to change the worldview of their readers.

Reviewed by Grace P. on March 19, 2019

by Melissa Ostrom