Title: The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer (Mara Dyer #1)
Author: Michelle Hodkin
Publisher: Simon & Schuster BFYR, 2011
Genre: YA Paranormal
When you do a Google search for this book, a lot of things come up. There seem to be huge fanbases of Mara Dyer. It’s kind of incredible. Because after several years, people still love this series. They sport t-shirts that proclaim, “I survived the Mara Dyer trilogy.” I now wonder what I got myself into.
But let’s break down the book, yes? As you’ve seen fro the blurb, there’s not much description given to tell you about the book. So that’s what I’m here for.
In the beginning, we are told by “Mara” herself that the name “Mara Dyer” is a pseudonym, and she has received advice from council to use one. So right off the bat, we know we are going to have what’s known as an “unreliable narrator.” These narrators tell the story, but the facts and perception may not be the truth. At least I was warned.
Mara wakes up in a hospital with no memory of how she got there. Her parents tell her that there was an “accident” and a building collapsed on her and her friends. No one but Mara survived. And Mara doesn’t remember why she was there or what happened. All she knows is that instantly she has lost her boyfriend Jude, her best friend Rachel, and Rachel’s friend Claire. Maya has blackout moments, and her mother as a psychiatrist wants to commit her. Mara convinces her mom that simply moving away will help, because everything around her is a reminder. She knows that’s not the issue, though. The problem seems to be that Mara is hallucinating, seeing Rachel’s face in the mirror or Jude out of the corner of her eye.
Once moved, she and brother Daniel are enrolled into Croyster Academy, a private school in Miami, Florida; this is quite the change from her hometown of Laurelton, Rhode Island. On her first day she is drawn to a handsome boy with a devil-may-care attitude, and he seems genuinely drawn to Mara. However, she develops a friendship with a fellow student, Jamie, who warns her against Noah. Apparently the British eye-candy has quite a reputation at the school for love ’em and leave ’em relationships. Strange things makes her life even more awkward and difficult: she falls face-first onto the ground and bleeds all over the class. She sees a dog tied up and malnourished, but when she berates the owner and she starts to envision his death, he ends up looking just as Mara pictures, with his head carved in. She starts to wonder as she sees things and the people from her accident: can she even trust her own eyes? Did she even berate the dog owner?
Throughout all this, Noah pursues her, and though she pushes him away, she realizes she’s been sketching his face in her book over and over. So maybe she likes Noah, but she refuses to be another notch on his bedpost. But when Noah helps her out of a jam, she is stuck owing him a date, and it appears Noah might be hiding some demons of his own. As the two draw closer, Mara starts to lose her grip on reality more and more, finally ending up on medication. But Mara is starting to remember the accident, slowly and in small chunks in her dreams. How did she survive? And should she really let Noah in, knowing that there are pieces of her past that have followed Mara to Florida?*
*I’m pretty sure you’re just as confused as I was….but this is all I can give without spoilers. But I can assure you, this barely scratches the surface of Mara’s story. You’ll have to read to find out more.*
Is it Classroom-Appropriate?
That’s a tricky question. It does address the symptoms and issues of mental illness, and the struggles the family goes through when one of the members is ill (though I’m not saying that Dyer is crazy…you’ll just have to see!). It has a little swearing and a hint of intimacy, but I think certain ages are already used to these occurrences in media today. I would probably be able to comfortably present it to a Sophomore or higher level class. There’s little academic value in the book, though, so it would be more likely to be a book recommended for outside reading than one in the classroom. (Not that the book is bad…it’s just more of an entertaining read than a scholarly one).
Lexile.com rates it as HL600L, with an age range of 14-18 (and up, of course). I’d prefer and feel more comfortable with 15, but it also depends on the maturity of the reader. 600 is higher than many YA books, but still low enough to give to reluctant readers. The HL means “High-Low,” which implies that younger readers would be able to comprehend the material but it is not necessarily appropriate for them.
READ IT. SERIOUSLY. I give it ★★★★★ easily. I read way into the night. Mara reminds me of Kestrel from The Winner’s Curse, though, because of her stubborn ways and belief in self-sacrifice for the “greater good.” She can be frustrating, but if one cannot trust their own mind, I would probably be frustrating, too. How can you know what’s true and a lie when you can’t tell if what you see is real? This is where my empathy for Mara comes in, and it will for you, too.
I hope I steered you in the right direction with this book. I myself am starting book two today, The Evolution of Mara Dyer. Too much of a cliffhanger to stop now! Happy reading, my book besties!