The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer by Michelle Hodkin is the first in a trilogy (the third book, The Retribution of Mara Dyer, will be out in November). It’s a haunting story about a girl who’s dealing with something impossible while the normal world carries on around her. The magical realism grounds the book firmly in our world, which makes the paranormal elements even scarier because they no longer seem so impossible.
I don’t want to spoil things so I’m afraid to say too much. In the beginning, we learn that Mara suffers from PTSD after being in a building that collapses and kills her friend, and everyone–her parents, her brothers, her teachers–think all of her weird experiences are just symptoms. At least, the weird experiences they know about, which is only a fraction of them, because she’s afraid to tell them lest they lock her away in a padded room. At times, even Mara isn’t sure if the stuff she’s seeing or feeling is real or just hallucinations, and she worries maybe she’s lost her mind.
The book is fast-paced although the paranormal elements don’t show immediately. The book starts with a Ouija board, and at first it feels a little hookey (not the book, just the fact that there’s a Ouija board at all because what year is it, 1985?) And of course, it gives Mara and her friends some cryptic message. But I kind of like how it’s presented as ‘lol Ouija boards, right?’ It’s just something people do. (Not really a spoiler, but the reasoning behind its existence makes a lot of sense when we learn things later and can surmise why it was there.) Then Mara and friends visit an old mental hospital that collapses on top of them and only Mara survives. This leaves her with post traumatic stress, a metric ton of survivor’s guilt, and even inspires her whole family to move to Florida to give her a fresh start.
Actually, though, the book opens with her explaining that her lawyer told her to pick a fake name:
My name is not Mara Dyer, but my lawyer told me I had to choose something. A pseudonym. A nom de plume, for all of us studying for the SATs. I know that having a fake name is strange, but trust me—it’s the most normal thing about my life right now. Even telling you this much probably isn’t smart. But without my big mouth, no one would know that a seventeen-year-old who likes Death Cab for Cutie was responsible for the murders. No one would know that somewhere out there is a B student with a body count.
And it’s important that you know, so you’re not next. Rachel’s birthday was the beginning.
This is what I remember.
I mean, how do you not want to keep reading right then and there?
The creepy and scary elements get amped up every chapter, so you never want to put it down. Hodkin writes an engaging teen voice, and Mara is pragmatic, sensible, and a little sarcastic. Also, Noah Shaw. I’m not even going to tell you about him, future reader, just trust me when I say he’s great.
I cannot recommend this series highly enough, even if you think you’re sick of paranormal books or magical realism, because this one is unexpected and captivating. Also, just FYI, the audiobook is excellent! It’s narrated by Christy Romano, who brings Mara to life in a way that completely compliments Hodkin’s clever writing.