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Book Nook: ‘The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer’

A girl is potentially losing her mind because of a horrible accident and potentially losing her heart because of a sparkly vampire rich boy from private school, all while having to solve the mystery of how her best friend and boyfriend died.

Title: The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer

Author: Michelle Hodkin

Genre: Paranormal mystery, romance, young adult

The gist: A girl is potentially losing her mind because of a horrible accident and potentially losing her heart because of a hot rich boy from private school, all while having to solve the mystery of how her best friend and boyfriend died.

Initial attraction: The book had a lot of buzz going at the Teen Author Carnival as well as at Book Expo America and it came with a free t-shirt.

Cover art: I like how it’s black… and the font is very cool… but, and I may have mentioned this a time or two (or 27), I hate headless cover models. There really is nothing about the image that resonates with me, and other than being vaguely creepy I’m not sure how it’s supposed to be linked to the text exactly. I could hypothesize a few metaphoric scenarios but they would be rather tenuous and completely spoil the ending.

Summary:

Mara Dyer doesn’t think life can get any stranger than waking up in a hospital with no memory of how she got there. It can.

She believes there must be more to the accident she can’t remember that killed her friends and left her mysteriously unharmed. There is.

She doesn’t believe that after everything she’s been through, she can fall in love. She’s wrong.

The best part: The dialogue is snarky and hilarious, just the way I like it. Of course, that’s pretty much the only thing that lightens the creepy mood of the story so I enjoyed it that much more.

The worst part: It takes far too long for the paranormal aspects of the story to develop, which makes it feel a little unstable. This is an interesting new trend in this season’s YA paranormal mysteries like in and , but The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer held off a little too long on the paranormal. If I hadn't known there was a paranormal aspect coming I would have been irritated and given it the deus ex machina squint. Actually, if I hadn't know about the paranormal bit I may not have read it at all because it would have looked like a creepy romance, which it is in fact.

Characters: Mara was certainly likeable enough to the reader but I really can’t wrap my head around why the entire student body hated her--I mean really, what are the odds that every single girl in school will hate the new kid just for scoring the hot guy? And while I liked her only friend Jamie, he really was the token Black Jewish Bisexual Guy, and after his role of relaying the important gossip to Mara is fulfilled he disappears from the story completely. As for the hot guy, Noah, he was a little too Edward Cullen for my tastes but that didn’t actually stop me from devouring the book and Mara’s sarcastic responses made the romance more interesting--at least she made him work for the attention. I really liked Mara’s brothers and her strong bond with them. They played an active role in her life (along with her parents) rather than being cast aside for the protagonist to ‘go it alone’ as so often happens in YA.

Plot: ‘What? What? What the what? What is even going on here?’ sums up most of the plot rather nicely. And I mean that in the good way. My biggest problem with the plot is that the end has very little resolution at all and leaves the reader with more questions than answers, but it’s definitely an ending you won’t forget.

Setting: The story is set in Florida and covers everything from the private school section to the Cuban districts to the Miami Beach and swamp areas. The creepiest bits, though, are when Mara has flashbacks to the things she can’t quite remember about the accident, which was in a condemned insane asylum.

Writing style: Mara as an unreliable narrator was very interesting and reminiscent of but different from Libba Bray with Going Bovine or Liar by Justine Larbalestier. Mara was completely aware that she was having hallucinations and PTSD flashbacks and it was interesting to try and sort out which were which, and in between what was actually happening. Tricky bit of writing that is, but it was well done--a little too well done, in fact, because it frequently creeped me out.

In which I babble: Some random notes in chronological order of when I thought them:

  • Why do creepy books always feature a Ouija board?
  • That is a heck of a way to start one’s first day at school. Worst first class ever.
  • The impressions I got from Mara’s former boyfriend between the first chapter and a quarter of the way through the book are very different. It made me think of this recent observation on character development over at Pub Rants.
  • It’s like the bad boy you shouldn’t want versus the nice guy that you should, except the nice guy never even stood a chance for half a second.

Quotes: 

“I squinted one of my eyes at Daniel. ‘What are you doing?’ he asked. ‘This is me, giving you the side eye.’ I continued to squint.”

“And they called my dad, to verify I didn’t actually have Ebola at home. Idiots. One little joke involving hemorrhagic fever and they brand you ‘unstable.’”

“’My God, you’re like the plague.’ ‘A masterfully crafted, powerfully understated and epic parable of timeless moral resonance? Why thank you. That’s one of the nicest things anyone’s ever said to me,’ he said, coolly amused. ‘The disease, Noah. Not the book.’”

“I find it hilarious that whenever I light up, Americans look at me like I’m going to urinate on their children.”

“I twisted my arm to curl him behind me and he unfolded there, the two of us snuggled like quotation marks in his room full of words.”

Other reviews:

"The author definitely has a knack for writing disturbing, creepy scenes--there is this one scene when Mara is alone in the house that was genuinely scary. The is-she-crazy/is-she-not-crazy added quite a lot of suspense to the story." – The Book Smugglers

"His behavior made this tense, chilling story of a teenager’s near unraveling following the death of several friends all the more unsettling--and not always in a good way." - Phoebe North

You might also like: Paranormal mysteries such as  by Karen Healey, by Maureen Johnson or After Obsession by Carrie Jones and Steven E. Wedel. Unreliable narrators such as in Going Bovine by Libba Bray or Liar by Justine Larbalestier.

Facts about the author: You can read Michelle Hodkin’s blog here or check out the official website here.

Publisher: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers

Release date: September 2011

Purchase the book here.

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