Book Review Books LGBTQ+ Reviews

Review of Untouched by Jayme Bean

September 23, 2021
A hardback copy of the book Untouched by Jayme Bean, which is a dark brown cover with a face on it covered in vines and the words "some places are better left untouched" in white font

Okay, I’m not going to lie to you. If I didn’t know Jayme on Twitter, I probably wouldn’t have picked up this book. Because I’m a huge scaredy cat, and the idea of reading a thriller with a cover like this was unimaginable to me. But oh my goodness, am I glad that I do know Jayme and I did pick up the book! Untouched is an absolute masterclass in storytelling, and once I started I couldn’t put it down. By the end I really felt like I had bonded with the characters, and I felt bereft at saying goodbye to them. If that doesn’t make you want to pick up this book already, maybe the rest of this review will…

A thrilling adventure set in the depths of the rainforest

Untouched follows Dr Julia Morrow and two of her graduate students, David and Marisol, as they head into a remote part of the Amazon rainforest on a research trip. But as soon as they arrive they are hit with signs of foreboding. Another one of the researchers, Ben, has gone missing. And the local guides are refusing to go into the forest, calling it Tierra Maldita (cursed land). This leaves Julia, David, and Marisol alone in their search for Ben, and it doesn’t take long for them to be separated, as the jungle begins to shift and change around them.

Eventually they find Ben, but even with all his experience in this part of the rainforest they still have no idea what is happening or how to get back home. Not only are they seemingly trapped in an endlessly shifting landscape, the jungle itself seems intent on causing them harm. Injuries abound, and yet in amongst the obvious fear there is a natural curiosity that has been piqued. Why is this happening? Are they seeing a new evolutionary shift in action? And what does it all mean?

Vivid descriptions draw you right into the world

One of the best things about this book is how incredibly vibrant the setting is. Jayme builds up a picture of the landscape and ecosystem so well it really does feel as if you’re right there in the rainforest with them. So much so that I’m pretty sure I never want to go to the rainforest myself – I like my creature comforts just a little bit too much for that! But the beauty and wonder of the environment is never lost, even when the stakes grow ever higher. There’s one particular scene which sticks in my mind, about three quarters of the way through and after the jungle has already attacked them on multiple occasions, when they get an incredible viewing of an Amazon River Dolphin. The joy and awe that they feel in that moment is palpable.

I also realised, while listening to this fantastic book discussion about Untouched over on the Raul Reads YouTube Channel, that I think of the jungle itself as being a character in this book rather than just a setting. At first the things that happen to the characters just seem menacing and scary, but over time you start to feel as if the jungle has a soul and is simply trying to protect and assert itself. The characters begin to notice patterns of behaviour, and this gives it a seeming sentience of sorts, bringing it to life in a truly thrilling way. As much as I was cheering for the main characters to make it out alive, I also wanted the rainforest to be safe. And I think that is a beautiful thing.

The character development is so real and moving

Speaking of the characters, they absolutely made this book for me. The main trio are David, Marisol, and Ben. Marisol is someone who you can immediately warm up to, with her bright, outgoing attitude to things. And Ben is a very easy going, adventurous, and highly proficient explorer. But I have to admit, I didn’t really like David when we first met him. He seemed rather stand-offish and abrupt, especially in comparison to Marisol’s rather sunny nature, and I wondered why on earth he’d decided to go on this research trip at all. Although it must be said that some of the reason I didn’t like him is because I saw a lot of myself in him – his anxiety about being in this wild place, and his unease around others are both things I can relate to very well – and sometimes I don’t want to see those things reflected back at me. But by the end of the book, I truly loved him.

David’s character arc was amazing. He went from being in this environment that already made him uneasy, and then managed to survive through something that was highly dangerous, whilst forging not only an incredibly strong, platonic bond with Marisol, but also a beautiful romantic one with Ben too. For someone who started out his journey keeping people at arm’s length, he sure did grow a lot throughout this book! And despite suffering from major anxiety and panic attacks, he held his own and kept the group going on more than one occasion. When the chips were down, he managed to keep his cool, calm the others, and get them out of some serious scrapes. And as someone who suffers from severe anxiety, I know how much strength that takes.

The dynamic between the main trio is great representation

But what I truly loved the most about the main trio were the dynamics between them. First we get to see Marisol and David learning to work together, despite their differences, and form a bond that very quickly forms into a truly lovely relationship. They become almost like an old, married couple, comfortable in each others space, and it’s wonderful to see this kind of friendship between a man and a woman described without any kind of pressure for them to get together. We know that David is into women, as he’d kissed another woman early on in the book. But neither of them felt that attraction, and I absolutely love that. We need more platonic love rep in books please!!

And then when we meet Ben it’s obvious that both Marisol and David are struck by his rugged good looks, but it’s between David and Ben where the sparks strike. And again, this could have been written with the love triangle trope in mind, but Jayme takes us in another direction and one which I much preferred. There is a moment where Marisol is surprised by what is happening, but they all talk it out and then quickly fall into an easy place of being together with the new dynamic. I love the fact that there was no huge deal made about David being bisexual, that there wasn’t a long, drawn out “will they, won’t they” storyline, and there was no jealousy or competition between them all. It was such a breath of fresh air.

The book itself is also gorgeous

I couldn’t finish this review without mentioning the style of the book. I have a hardback copy of Untouched, and Jayme has made some gorgeous style choices in the way she has published it. The cover and sleeve both have a matte finish, and the design is really unique. The pages also have a really lovely, smooth feel, each chapter has a little line drawing of a plant on it, and scene changes are marked by more line drawings. It is such a luxurious book and so worth the extra cost of getting a hardcover version.

Grab yourself a copy of Untouched by Jayme Bean

If you’re in the UK I recommend buying your version from Queer Lit, who I believe still have some signed copies left. And if you’re in the US you can order a signed copy direct from Jayme.

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