The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer tells the story of how Mara and her friends Rachel, Claire, and Jude were in a tragic accident that only Mara survived. She was in a coma for three days and when she wakes up, she can’t remember any of what happened to her and her friends. Upon leaving the hospital, she becomes slightly unhinged, having vivid hallucinations and seeing her dead friends everywhere. Rather than face institutionalization, Mara convinces her family to move from Rhode Island to Miami, Florida to leave all the bad juju behind and make a fresh start. Mara hopes that a change of scenery will help her heal, but almost immediately she begins having the hallucinations and starting to remember the night of the accident. At the same time, strange things start to happen in her life that are most definitely not hallucinations and Mara teeters on the brink of sanity.
I was drawn to this book in Target (my haven) by the gorgeous cover, and stayed for the promise of a good paranormal mystery. Sadly, this book was the very definition of a mixed bag. The first few chapters were very promising, starting with a flashback to Mara and her friends before the accident and then describing the events immediately after. The tone of these chapters is one of creeping dread and something-not-quite-right. Hodkin does a great job of establishing Mara and setting the stage for her unraveling. Upon moving to Miami, Mara immediately meets Noah Shaw and this is where things start to get complicated, both for Mara and the reader. Noah is the ultimate stereotypical bad boy: charming but aloof, mysterious and just the right amount of dangerous, bad reputation and a total ladies man, but of course focuses his attention completely on Mara unlike he has with any girl before. Oh let’s not forget that he’s smoking hot and filthy rich. Right. It was a total distraction and, unfortunately, becomes almost the total focus of the book. Listen, I’m someone who actually enjoys some romance in her reading when it’s well done, and it was nice not to have the love triangle that seems to be in every new YA book lately, but there needs to be balance.
An inordinate amount of time is spent with Mara and Noah and it runs too long. Other plot lines are introduced, that are almost virtually forgotten chapters later. Some of these are introduced again later in the book, but it feels rushed and they should have been more evenly spaced with the romance plot. Not to mention, the end of the book gets a little convoluted. New events develop suddenly and don’t feel natural to the story. A bit more character development for some of the side players would have been a bonus, too. Actually, Noah could use some more development as well. As the book progresses he and Mara speak to each other less and less like high schoolers. Heck, less and less like real people. Some of the dialogue had my eyes almost rolling out of my head.
It’s not all bad, though. Mara herself is a very interesting character (when she’s not fawning over Noah) and she makes her story engaging and intriguing. Even with all her extra baggage, she still suffers many of the normal teenage horrors and handles them with a dry wit that I loved (the line “I freaked the fuck out with earnest” may be one of my favorite lines in a book, ever). I also really enjoyed her brother Daniel and the relationship they have, it was probably the best developed and most enjoyable relationship in the book, and I enjoyed every minute those two were together. Another thing that Hodkin did well was the creepy hallucinations. Mara is becoming unhinged and often cannot tell reality from hallucination, and often, neither can we. Those were incredibly effective and Hodkin would do well to focus more on that in the next installment.
Next installment, you say? Of course. On the very last page of the book, I found the closing words “End of Volume I.” Sigh. Had I known this prior to reading the book, I may have viewed it differently, as I was expecting things to wrap up at the end and was getting a little frustrated. However, the last few pages did show promise for the events of the next book and, despite its flaws, I did enjoy this book enough to tune in for another installment.