We Were Restless Things by Cole Nagamatsu – Review

From debut author Cole Nagamatsu comes an atmospheric contemporary fantasy about three teens coming of age in the wake of a mysterious death.

Last summer, Link Miller drowned on dry land in the woods, miles away from the nearest body of water. His death was ruled a strange accident, and in the months since, his friends and family have struggled to make sense of it. But Link’s close friend Noemi Amato knows the truth: Link drowned in an impossible lake that only she can find. And what’s more, someone claiming to be Link has been contacting her, warning Noemi to stay out of the forest.

As these secrets become too heavy for Noemi to shoulder on her own, she turns to Jonas, her new housemate, and Amberlyn, Link’s younger sister. All three are trying to find their place—and together, they start to unravel the truth: about themselves, about the world, and about what happened to Link.

Unfolding over a year and told through multiple POVs and a dream journal, We Were Restless Things explores the ways society shapes our reality, how we can learn to love ourselves and others, and the incredible power of our own desires.

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Thank you to NetGalley for this eARC from an incredible debut author! A literary trope that I will pick up any time that I see it is impossible interactions through any type of phone function, and that is the reason that I was originally attracted to the synopsis of this novel. Little did I know that the conversations between Noemi and her late fling Link were only the tip of the iceberg. Link died mysteriously in the forest outside of Noemi’s house– it was ruled a drowning, but there was no water to be seen. We join Noemi, Link’s sister Amberlyn, and the new kid Jonas as they find their places in Shivery, Minnesota, and attempt to solve the riddle of the woods.

This is truly a coming of age story; fear, mysticism, and love run rampant through these pages. The magical realism lends itself very well to the transition between teenager to young adult, as well as the incomparable trauma that comes with losing a friend so early in life. There are so many variables, and the ground feels ever changing beneath your feet… or sometimes, you find a deep, dark lake that has inexplicably appeared in the midst of your safe space. All these metaphors for the uncertainty of life are beautifully woven between our narrators. Noemi deals with her guilt; not only over Link but because of the fact that she feels like she can’t get close to anyone, and because of that, she feels broken. Amberlyn begins to fill the hole her brother left behind as she spends more time with her friend Lyle, and figures out her sexuality at the same time. Jonas attempts to make a new name for himself in this town while he falls for Noemi but constantly feels the cold cast of Link’s shadow. All three come together to put their fallen friend to rest once and for all.

Without spoiling anything, I thought that the reveal of what was truly going on in the forest of Shivery was unique and beautiful. The build up to that release felt so heavy and foreboding, but by the end, you have a feeling that somehow, everything is going to be okay. All of the characters were so diverse and had their own journeys that they were working through, and as you learned more about them, you realized more and more not to judge a book by its cover. There was a lot of living put into these pages. As you read, the lives seem to jump off the page at you. The way that Cole included bits and pieces from Noemi’s dream journal made everything that much more personal, and it felt as though these people were your own personal friends by the last line of the novel. I think Cole created a harrowing, supernatural look at what it’s like to grow up– and beautifully captured the ugliness that exists therein.

5/5 stars