The Unbecoming Of Mara Dyer had the makings of something really special. You’ve got Mara, a girl who wakes up one day in a hospital bed with all the machines around her hissing and whirring only to be told that she has just been rescued from a collapsed building where three of her friends died. She can’t remember anything about the accident and is pretty traumatised, so she and her family move to Florida to make a fresh start.
Gradually we see her descent into madness as she has vivid hallucinations and questions what’s real and what isn’t, slowly losing her grip on reality. Intertwined with this are a number of mysterious deaths that Mara seems somehow to be able to predict and a boy who may know more than he’s letting on.
See? It sounds awesome, doesn’t it? And really the parts describing Mara’s craziness, her self-doubt and some of the things that happen to her are well-written and genuinely spooky. The author has also done a decent job of fleshing out the supporting cast so you get a real feel for them as people. The setting is very apt, too. I’ve only been to Miami once, but the author’s done a really good job of summing up the claustrophobic humidity and the Everglades, which added to the general spookiness.
Really there were just two things I didn’t like about The Unbecoming Of Mara Dyer, but unfortunately those two things were Mara and Noah.
God, those two irritated me. If I was American, I’d call them douchebags, but I’m not American, I’m English and I can’t use words like dude, asshat and douchebag without sounding weird.
Okay, let’s start with Mara.
Mara Dyer has to be the whiniest character I’ve ever come across in a book. Ever. She bangs on constantly about her parents being overprotective of her and I’m not going to go on a huge rant about all the thousands of teenagers who have spent their lives being shunted around the system being given only the most perfunctory care and support and how many of them would sell their right bollock (or ovary) to have two capable, loving parents looking out for them at all times, but I will say this: Mara, you just had a building fall on your head. Your parents are entitled to worry.
Mara has just undergone a tragedy that claimed the lives of three friends and is now hallucinating regularly and admits to herself that she has PTSD. But she doesn't want to see a therapist, or be medicated or talk to her psychologist mother about it. Of course not. Because mental health issues are well documented for going away on their own if you just ignore them.
And she’s a sociopath. She seems genuinely unfazed by the fact that she’s killed five people and is now planning to kill another:
With Mabel, Morales - I did everything the right way; calling Animal Control, telling the principal. But nothing worked until I did it my way.
Here’s a heads-up - Mara's 'way’ is to kill these people. Like, actually kill them. She kills her Spanish teacher for giving her a failing grade in her class. And when she realises what she’s done, she doesn’t give a stuff.
And Noah. Oh my lord. What a dick. The whole trope where a bad-boy/man-whore spends all his time shagging around before meeting our Special Snowflake protagonist who managed to be the girl to change his slutty ways is something that I’m not a huge fan of, but I know some people adore that kind of thing, so I’m going to let that one slide.
The thing that really confused me was this: All the girls at school find Noah deeply attractive, yet despite knowing that he’s not interested in a relationship, the girls who hook up with him are so distraught when he dumps them that one girl actually attempts suicide. Suicide! Seriously, what has this boy got going on? Is his penis made of crack or something?
So then Mara joins their school and she’s only been there for two nanoseconds before he decides he’s going to be her stalker. He cuts his own classes and sits in on hers (the teachers are fine with this, by the way), and sits staring at her for the whole lesson. And then he seems to pop up wherever she is and eventually rounds off his creepy behaviour by announcing to a group of classmate-bullies that Mara is his girlfriend without consulting her first. Also, he goes to a costume party not wearing a costume (knob) and tells Mara that he has a dark and mysterious past (double knob). Mara is charmed by this behaviour, but that’s mainly because Noah plays the Hot Guy Get-Out Clause.
What’s the Hot-Guy Get-Out Clause, I hear you ask? Well, let me tell you.
Whenever I think a female character is putting up with unacceptable behaviour just because the guy perpetrating it is hot, (Edward sneaking into Bella’s bedroom to watch her sleep; anything Christian Grey does, ever), I ask myself the following question: What would her reaction be if the person behaving like this was a 50-year-old guy with a hairy back and halitosis? The usual answer is: She’d go to the police. Except she doesn’t, because he has the Hot-Guy Get-Out Clause. You see, they’re only a stalker if you don’t fancy them back.
So instead of getting a restraining order out (like she would if it was the hairy 50-year-old) Mara simpers and sighs and calls him an asshole without any real conviction and goes on with this tedious internal monologue about how hot he is.
Well, at least they didn’t fall in instalove. Oh, wait...
So yeah, Mara and Noah are idiots. Hey, maybe that’s why he only stays with girls for a few days. Maybe he’s just sorting through all of them to try and find someone as unpleasant as he is.
Such a shame, because in other respects this is a really awesome book.
I might carry on with this series. I might. But unless the first scene of the next book involves a grand piano dropping out of the sky onto Mara and Noah’s heads then I can’t see it going well.