Great Book With a couple of Major Flaws (Spoilers), October 4, 2013

'The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer' MIchelle Hodkin

****

I haven't reviewed any YA books for a while, though I do read a fair number of them, mainly because they are so similar that I keep saying more or lee the same thing. But days after finishing 'The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer' I still find myself thinking about it (a bit obsessively, to be honest). And I think that's because the good things about this book are so good, that the annoying things about it grow by comparison.

So, beginning with the good: I loved, loved, loved the premise of this book, partly because it automatically made the narrator unreliable, which is always interesting, but moreso because she was unreliable by such a timely and telling means. Her situation is so common in the modern, western world: high-achieving child of high-achieving parents takes a tumble, and the well-meaning parents throw everything possible at the child to try to 'fix' her, without ever stopping to see and address the real problem. True, the reason for Mara's emotional instability - the death of her best friend in an accident she can't remember - is pure Gothic drama, but her frustration with her family's overzealous efforts to try to make it go away are 100% authentic teen. At times it's authentic enough to make you squirm: i.e. Mara caught on the front steps between her boyfriend who's waiting in the car, and her mother who's trying to make her swallow an antipsychotic before she'll let her go.

The best thing about this book, for me, was creeping claustrophobia of the first-person narration: the intensity of being in the mind of this girl who everyone believes to be crazy, as she begins to wonder if they're right. Because of that, the whole thing came crashing down for me when it became clear that there was a supernatural reason for her apparent madness. This book would have been so much more interesting if it had remained a psychological thriller. Instead, about 2/3 of the way through, it became a rather tired rehashing of 'Carrie'. In fact, Mara even alludes to that story. And I don't really get why this had to go the paranormal route, except that that's been the done thing in YA for the last few years. It could have been a great mind-game novel, especially with the (big spoiler coming!) Jude plot-twist at the end.

But seeing as it wasn't, let's move on to my other major grip - Noah. Before anyone freaks out, I liked him - a lot, actually. I certainly liked him better than most of the YA love interests I've read of late, and that's why he's also one of the things that's most troubled me - even haunted me - about this book. Taken on his own, he's a great character - funny, flawed, intelligent, with a hidden heart of gold. Put him with Mara and the chemistry is explosive, not to mention the quality of their banter, especially before she falls for him. But there is no way that Mara's mother, as a trained psychologist, would give her carte blanche where he is concerned. For on thing, he's the kind of guy who would make any mother leery - and trust me, we can spot them at 20 paces! But more to the point, the first rule of treatment for any serious psychological disorder is not to begin a romantic relationship. In AA, for instance, they tell people to see if they can take care of a plant, then a pet, before they even think about getting involved with another person. Mara's mother definitely wouldn't be okay with Mara dating.

But my biggest issue with Mara/Noah was that she herself didn't have more issues with his reputation. We learn within paragraphs of his introduction that he's slept with every girl in school and broken all of their hearts. I was hoping, especially after his confession about his non-fling with Anna, that we would find out the rep was actually completely false. That would have been far more interesting, and easier to swallow once he and Mara do get involved. But no: he really is an a**hole.

I do get the appeal of a bad boy - I think all women do - but there's bad and there's BAD. I'm no prude, and if Noah's badness = riding a motorcycle, writing graffiti, cutting school, smoking joints, partying all night, I'd have still been okay with Mara falling for him. Nor did I need him to be a virgin. But to pathologically use and hurt people is unforgivable, and I couldn't figure out why Mara didn't think so too. She protests for a while, but then his extreme sexiness apparently makes her disregard everything he's done. Ugh, really? This is what we're selling to teenage girls as desirable?

The fact that he treats Mara as kindly as he does later on only confuses things further. Love 'em and leave 'em types just don't change their stripes that easily, and even if they did, what makes Noah treat Mara differently from the girls he's used like kleenex, before he even knows anything about her? There's a sort of half-baked 'I knew you before we met' caveat toward the end, but it really didn't convince me.

So, four stars for a gripping story and a better-than-average premise. But this could have been 5+++. Hoping some of this is resolved in the sequel...

By sarah on 09 November 2013 |