Mara wakes up in hospital with no memories of the night her friends and boyfriend died. All she knows is that she can’t stay in the place filled with memories of her best friend and she begs her parents to move away. She thinks she’s doing great until she starts seeing them; her dead friends, in mirrors or standing on the other side of the room. She must be going crazy. Why can’t she remember?

The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer is essentially an attempt at young adult psychological horror that somehow just doesn’t quite make it. The sense that Mara is convinced that she must be psychotic, that the things she sees aren’t real, should create a tense and creepy story but the atmosphere just isn’t there for most of it. Mara is almost blasé about her condition; wouldn’t you be more scared if you thought you were losing your mind? The glimpses in mirrors and her resulting fear of looking into them is probably the strongest part of this. The writing is a little inconsistent and the starting chapters were so bland that I nearly put the book down before it even got going. Yet there was something that drew me on and I enjoyed it at some level.

Mara, being a typical American teenager, uses the term “British accent” a few times which of course irritated me…only for her to be corrected by English Noah later in the book. I wanted to cheer him! I actually really liked his character, not really the bad boy in school though obviously there were plenty of rumours, he seems altogether real and swears and says stuff I expect a young man would. Mara turns out to be a quite interesting character, not a typical person you can point out and go yes she’s doing the right thing and I believe in her. The realisation at the end, whilst something I saw coming, makes you wonder how she’s going to deal with it in the future.

The school they attended was a little unreal. That they expel a pupil on the say so of one student who is backed up by their best friend? That on an oral exam that will affect college applications, a teacher can fail a student with no proof of anything? It’s hard to bristle with indignation when the unfairness isn’t believable. I can see what she was trying to do but surely there were better ways of doing it? It’s not even like a big conspiracy was revealed at the end to explain it away, it’s meant to be normal behaviour!

I do wonder if in the rush to feed the hungry young adult market, publishers are cutting corners. My unprofessional view is that it hasn’t gone through a thorough editing process. There’s promise in the writing and good character development so I wouldn’t avoid the sequel but I was rather disappointed in the package that was The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer.

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