Review: An Unstill Life by Kate Larkindale

An Unstill Life by Kate Larkindale

Things at home are rough for fifteen-year-old Livvie Quinn. Jules, her beloved older sister is sick again after being cancer free for almost ten years. Her mom becomes more frantic and unapproachable every day. School isn’t much better. Just when she needs them most, her closest friends get boyfriends and have little time for Livvie – except to set her up on a series of disastrous blind dates.

Livvie seeks refuge in the art room and finds Bianca, the school ‘freak’. Free-spirited and confident, Bianca is everything Livvie isn’t. Shaken by her mom’s desperation, her sister’s deteriorating condition, and abandoned by her friends, Livvie finds comfort and an attraction she never felt before with Bianca.

When their relationship is discovered, Livvie and Bianca become victims of persecution and bullying. School authorities won’t help and even forbid the pair to attend the Winter Formal as a couple. If Livvie defies them and goes, she risks expulsion and further ridicule from her classmates. At home, her mother’s behavior escalates to new levels of crazy and Jules is begging for help to end the pain once and for all.

While searching for the strength to make her life her own, Livvie must decide how far she’s willing to go for the people she loves.

I received An Unstill Life from the author in exchange for an honest review.

Livvie had felt second best her whole life. Her older sister was a pretty and popular cheerleader. Her best friend Hannah danced ballet, and her other best friend Mel was a track star. Livvie herself was a talented artist, but she didn’t place much value on that.

When Livvie’s sister cancer returned, their mom dropped everything to focus on treatments for Jules, ignoring Livvie even more than usual. It was understandable that the girls’ mother’s worry and fear over her older daughter’s life-threatening illness dominated their lives, but it was so hard to watch Livvie being pushed aside time and time again. There didn’t seem to be anything she could do to please her mother. I felt really bad for Livvie. If she wasn’t being ignored, she was being screamed at. Contrast that to Bianca’s home, where Livvie was accepted and welcomed immediately by Bianca’s single mother. There was a lot more for her there than just a new relationship. It was a place to escape the depressing scene at home and the difficulties at school and with her friends.

It was easy to see how Livvie and Bianca connected. Things were changing in other areas of Livvie’s life at the same time as her mom was dealing with Jules and the cancer. Hannah and Mel both started dating at the same time, leaving Livvie to spend more time alone. She met outcast Bianca, a girl she had seen around but had never really talked to before, in the art room at lunchtime. As Livvie and Bianca worked on their art, they become more comfortable with each other and when they ran into each other in unexpected places outside school, they started hanging out together. It wasn’t long before Livvie realized she had feelings for Bianca. I wished that had someone to talk to when she started feeling confused about her feelings. She tried talking to Jules, but by then Jules was pretty out of it with the side effects of her chemo. It’s sad, but not Jules’s fault, that when she needed her sister the most, Jules couldn’t be there for her.

I’m not sure I completely bought into Livvie and Bianca’s relationship the way I did with, say, Levi and Cath from Fangirl or Nolan and Reed from Waiting on the Sidelines and Going Long. I liked Livvie/Bianca just fine and was interested in them, but I didn’t have the feels for them that I did for the other couples. I wasn’t left with the impression that they were a couple meant to last forever and ever the way couples in most YA books are. As unrealistic as that may be, it’s the trope of fiction. I WANT to believe the couples I read about and love are together fifty years later. That’s okay, though, because there was a lot going on, and plenty to like about the book.

The most unique part of the book dealt with Livvie’s synesthesia. Livvie tasted colors and saw sounds. It was fascinating, and the writing centered around this ability was so beautiful. It wasn’t just brought up at the beginning of the books and forgotten about, either. It was a constant in Livvie’s life and throughout the book.

Mom’s voice was too high pitched, and her lips trembled as she shaped the shiny silver words.

I particularly loved this image:

My words wavered, blue and purple strands trailing after them like streamers.

An Unstill Life touched on a lot of major issues: cancer, bullying, Livvie’s newly discovered feelings for another girl, and emotional abuse. It might all seem like too much ground to cover in one book, but An Unstill Life managed to weave the issues together to create a beautiful, cohesive story.

4 stars

LGBT Month April 2014

This review is a part of LGBT month, hosted by Laura Plus Books and Fighting Dreamer.



  1. “I WANT to believe the couples I read about and love are together fifty years later. ” Haha, I want to believe that too. 🙂 And aww, those quotes you included make me want to read this book even more. Synethesia is just so fascinating.

    Btw, don’t forget to add your review to the link up! Also, enter the links of your LGBT posts to the rafflecopter so you can win! (you can enter once a day)
    Cayce recently posted…[Author Guest Post] Hannah Johnson on her favorite F/F books written or set in the nineteenth centuryMy Profile

    • An Unstill Life is definitely worth the read, and I don’t think I would have discovered it if the author hadn’t contacted me. I hope you pick it up!

      I think I was linking up my review around the time you were commenting, but was in a hurry and didn’t enter the giveaway. I’ll go do that now, thanks.
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  2. I really loved the descriptions revolving around Livvie’s synesthesia, too. How she saw sounds and tasted color. It was so interesting! And since you already read my review, I probably don’t have to say this– but oh my gosh, yes, I felt so bad for Livvie. It’s really sad to see someone be so ignored and alone. And when she finally found a person who would really listen to her and really see her, she was bullied for finding that someone.

    “I wished that had someone to talk to when she started feeling confused about her feelings.” <— Oh, I agree. I loved that Jules was supportive and did as much as she could despite how weak she was, but it would have been nice for another person to give her real support.

    And hah, now that I think about it, I see why Livvie and Bianca might not seem like a forever couple. I feel like they are more of a couple where two people who like each other are together because they both need each other at the time– they will both change and have different needs at some point. Though, I like to think that they stay good friends throughout life! (Sorry, I tend to imagine characters' lives after the whole story ends, haha.)

    Great review, Jenna!

    • I had heard of synesthesia before, but I didn’t know much about it. It really is fascinating! I think you might be right about Livvie and Bianca. That’s a good way to look at it. It’s okay that they’re not a forever couple, especially if they remain friends.

      I like to imagine characters living out their lives after the story ends, too. I also do that with TV shows. 🙂
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