Unraveling Isobel is an exuberant mix of gothic mystery and modern YA chick-lit. The story opens with 17-year-old Isobel arriving at her new home, a dilapidated estate called Morrigan, located on a small island. Morrigan belongs to Isobel’s new stepfather, Richard Wicklow, whose first wife and young daughter drowned in a suspicious boating accident just seven months earlier. Isobel is unimpressed by Richard and his house, and even less so by her mother’s decision to accept his overhasty marriage proposal. Isobel is now faced with the prospect of life away from her friends, with only Richard’s resentful (but hot) son Nathaniel for distraction.
Things quickly get weird. Isobel begins having visions of Nathaniel’s dead sister, who leaves clues about what really happened on the boat. But are the visions real? Has Isobel inherited her estranged father’s mental illness along with his artistic talent? Even she isn’t sure.
Against this dark backdrop, Isobel undergoes the ordinary tribulations of moving to a new community. Her initial dislike of Nathaniel soon transforms into friendship and eventually love. When school begins, it brings with it the social pressures of cliques and fitting in. There is plenty of comic relief in her interactions with the cool girls on the cheerleading team, including a disastrous sleepover that is interrupted by decidedly uncool supernatural events.
Isobel is a lively narrator, but most of the other characters are too one-dimensional, including the absolutely perfect Nathaniel and the awful popular girls, who try to use Isobel to get a date with her stepbrother. Nevertheless, the story is good, rollicking fun, with a satisfyingly over-the-top conclusion.