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The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer: A well-crafted scare

August 1, 2011

The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer
Michelle Hodkin
Simon and Schuster YA
On Sale Date September 2011 $16.99 450 pages

Thank you very much to Simon and Schuster for sending me a review copy of this book. I had been wanting to read it, because it’s in a sweet spot for me, of creatively spooky supernatural YA. And because Michelle Hodkin is really nice to book bloggers.

There’s been a lot of buzz about this book. At Book Expo America, there was something like a feeding frenzy for free copies.

The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer is excellently chilling throughout. It’s at its scariest, I think, during the less supernatural moments. It’s entirely possible that other readers will be less terrified than I was of the opening scenes of the book. Mara wakes up in a hospital bed, a scene described in excruciating detail, so that I can practically smell the antiseptic and hear the beeping machines. Eeek. I’ll give Michelle Hodkin credit, here, and elsewhere through the book, for her evocatively scary descriptions, of the ordinary as well as the paranormal.

Of course, the more intentional frights that build as the story progresses deliver excellent chills too. Dealing with PTSD after her accident, Mara loses hours at a time, and has gruesome hallucinations while mourning her friends. So much so, that her entire family uproots itself to start over in Florida. Mara’s sinister visions are compounded and expanded by the stress of starting a new high school right before midterms. Add a love-hate-intrigue crush on a new classmate, and it only magnifies the stress on Mara’s brittle sense of healing.

The thing is, this book works so chillingly well as a psychological thriller, I almost didn’t need the supernatural element. Reading the story of Mara’s meltdown, and attempts to grieve and move beyond crippling hallucinations, as a straight psychological exercise gives the horror a deliciously nasty immediacy. The idea of some malicious, but ordinary person working to orchestrate the events that trigger Mara’s walking nightmare is the most scared I’ve been reading a book in recent memory.

The supernatural elements are inventive and richly detailed enough to fit the story. (Also worth noting, probably ready for a sequel… there are unfinished story threads that leave an urgent need to know more!) I just wonder about the way the horror could have played out differently with only real-world explanations for her psychological distress, or for the terrible things happening around her. I remember thinking along the same lines when I read Relentlesss,  by Dean Koontz.

This is an entirely solid YA fantasy, well imagined, and honestly worth all the advance buzz. I’ll be curious to read what Michelle Hodkin writes next!


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5 Comments leave one →
  1. August 1, 2011 2:01 pm

    Guess who still hasn’t gotten around to reading this one yet 😦 So many other obligations sigh.. I’m glad to hear that you think it’s worth the buzz ^.^

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