Wendy Darling's Reviews > The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer

The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer by Michelle Hodkin
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1.5 stars Welcome to yet another teen romance masquerading as a paranormal novel. If you’re like me, you’ve been salivating to read this book for months because of the breathtaking cover—and of course, the premise of a girl waking up in a hospital with no memory of how her friends were killed is pretty intriguing. I’m sorry to say, however, that the maddening phenomenon I’m calling “cover fraud” strikes again, since this is another book whose interior does not live up to its beautiful cover art.

Mara Dyer doesn’t know what happened to her friends the day that a building collapsed on them, nor how she somehow escaped miraculously unscathed. The family decides to pack up and move to another town to get away from intrusive attention and so that her lawyer father can take on a high-profile criminal case. Until this point, things are pretty interesting and I wanted to know what was going on just as much as Mara did. Except suddenly, a boy enters the picture, and Mara pretty much loses all common sense interest in figuring out why people around her keep dying. And that’s when I lost my interest in this book, too.

I rarely have trouble adjusting any preconceived expectations about a book’s content, which is why I’m able to go with the flow for books such as Divergent or Delirium, which weren’t quite what I expected but I liked because the authors handled certain aspects of them very well. So if this was going to turn out to be a romance book with the paranormal stuff thrown in as a bonus, well, I’d be fine with it if I was sufficiently entertained. The issue with this is that if the book isn't entertaining and the romance doesn’t work for you, the whole thing is doomed. And this romance did not work for me at all.

Noah Shaw is one of those guys you’re supposed to find charming in spite of yourself. He’s arrogant, he’s got a smart mouth, he has a “deviant grin,” and he’s slept with just about every girl he’s ever looked at. As soon as Mara sees him, she seems to be struck dumb (view spoiler) by his appeal, even if she pretends to hate him. Noah pushes the boundary of being a jerk a little too often for my comfort, however, and it isn’t until later in the book that we find out whether or not he’s actually a good guy. The problem really isn’t Noah, though; it’s Mara. While Mara is admittedly not a completely spineless, annoying heroine, she is incredibly obsessed with Noah, to the point where you’re embarrassed for her. Look, we all notice every single minute detail when we’re into a guy, right? But there’s also family and work and hopes and dreams to think about, and certainly if there are people dropping like flies, you’d think a girl would spend a little more time worrying about that instead of mooning over “the slender muscles in his arms.” (Mara really doesn’t seem to do anything outside of school and her only friend is a very politically correct bisexual black Jewish guy who pretty much functions as a Greek chorus.) The fact that there is so much attention paid to the way Noah looks and what Noah says is pretty sad—and honestly, although he has a few moments where I bordered on liking him, it never really happened. Plus he’s just not that hot.

The amount of wish fulfillment running through this book is also completely out of control. Noah has a British accent, speaks six languages, and mentions his parents’ “la vie boheme” lifestyle. He lives in a palatial house with a valet, a “Greek-inspired fountain,” a “flawless patterned marble floor,” “plush Oriental rugs,” and oil paintings, and his “startling” room has enormous windows overlooking the bay and bookcases that reach all the way up to the ceiling. He reads to her from E.M. Forster, he’s possessive and tells a random guy named Alain off in French, and he wants Mara even though he could have anyone. Although of course, he never slept with the one mean girl who keeps tormenting Mara. And despite his ludicrous wealth--he literally peels $5000 off from a wad in his pocket at one point--he drives a Prius.

There are also the clichés of a tony private school, a prerequisite dance to which Mara wears a “dark emerald green silk dress” that dips “dangerously low in the back” and someone literally goes “OHmigod!” when he sees her, a ridiculous scene in which Mara tells off a cartoonishly unpleasant teacher, and an eye-rolling occasion when Noah crashes her art class and takes off his shirt so that all the drooling girls can sketch him. The more I think about it, the more this reads like the script for a CW television show. And also, what was with (view spoiler)

Oh, back to the dead people thing. There are some flashbacks to the day of the accident and more people die, but it’s all done with so little interest past the first quarter of the book that it’s really difficult to stay invested in the story, particularly when random events involving alligators, dog rescues, a seminar, a kidnapping, and her father’s court case are so haphazardly strung together. I guessed what the big secret was before I’d even read the first page (view spoiler), so it was an exercise in frustration to watch all the clunky pieces strain desperately to fit together into a cohesive whole.

Aside from the flat characters, uneven writing, and loose plotting, what turns me off so much about this story is that it’s all so shallow and all so meaningless. (view spoiler) I read a lot of fluff books for sheer entertainment, but there’s got to be something in them that I like—and sadly, the best things about this book are the cover and the premise. Like Elizabeth Miles’ Fury, it’s another beautifully packaged book (view spoiler) which is much more interested in indulging in superficial relationships than anything else.

I hesitate to weigh in this next bit as part of my rating because this is mostly a personal preference, but reviews are inherently subjective by nature, no? So I’ll go ahead and say that while I think Fury was technically the more tasteless book in terms detailing the dirty things that teenagers can get up to, there’s something about Mara Dyer that is much uglier to me. The fact that this girl is so obsessed with a boy is so wrong to begin with, but what really made me realize how much I disliked this book was the point when Noah starts jokingly quoting from The Velveteen Rabbit and Dr. Seuss and inserting fellatio jokes. I think most of my friends here know by my reading material that I’m pretty laid back and am not one to get worked up over the choices that fictional characters make that would not be my own. But I do believe strongly in the sanctity of childhood and feel a great deal of responsibility in doing my part in helping to protect that. While I know it’s all supposed to be funny and to show how clever and charming Noah is, I just find that sort of thing incredibly distasteful.

But in the end, I know there are many readers who will find this book a lot more appealing than I do. I don’t even blame anyone who still wants to check it out, because, well, look at that cover! How could it possibly be disappointing? All I can say is that I personally came away from this reading experience with an extremely bad taste in my mouth. It probably wasn’t helped by the fact that I’d recently read so many fantastic books that were not only entertaining, but were also beautiful and moving and actually contributed something meaningful to literature. The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer may very well end up being a popular book for now, but it will never end up being one that stands the test of time. What’s most disappointing is that it doesn’t even try to be.

This review also appears in The Midnight Garden.
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Reading Progress

10/03/2011 page 312
69.0% "Oh, Mara. I tried to give you the benefit of the doubt, but the rumors are true: you really are an idiot." 21 comments
10/03/2011 page 375
83.0% "Ugh. How dare you quote The Velveteen Rabbit? And DEFILE it?" 8 comments

Comments (showing 1-50 of 258) (258 new)


H.D. Tolson Oh yay! Can't WAIT to see what you think!!!


Wendy Darling Like everyone else, I think...it's a gorgeous cover! ;) That's all I have so far.


H.D. Tolson It IS a gorgeous cover!! I hear the blurb is really vague and there Is a lot more creepy stuff to the plot...


Wendy Darling Along with Imaginary Girls, it's probably my favorite cover of the year. There's something about those underwater ones! Hopefully the content matches up to the pretty package. But I'm keeping my expectations in check.


Surin Can't wait for your review! I've been trying to get this book for a while but every avenue I have seems to block me off for some reason (to cut a long story short my usual ebook vendors don't supply it and the ones that do don't accept my foreign C.Card). Finally I caved in and ordered the physical version from Book Depository which means I'd get it in 3 weeks. :( Here's hoping it's worth it!


Wendy Darling I hope so too, SL! I'm sorry it often seems to be so difficult for you all to get books overseas. :( The reviews have been very divided on this one, but I am hopeful nonetheless.


message 7: by Izzy (new) - added it

Izzy I really want to start reading this but I'm afraid to have to wait for the sequel. -.- Hope it's good!


Wendy Darling Things aren't going all that well, Izzy. :/


message 9: by Izzy (new) - added it

Izzy Typical! Ah well there's still chance for redemption!


Wendy Darling Hah, I think it's crossed the point of no return, unfortunately--at least for me. It's too bad.


message 11: by [deleted user] (new)

Oh no! Who's worse, do you think? Nora? Ever? Luce? Or is Mara the worst of the worst?
It's too bad though, because the cover is really beautiful.


Wendy Darling Okay, you've got me there, Leanne. Mara is better than all three of those lovelorn ladies, if only because her love interest is also better than the rapey ones. (So far, at least.) She does spend a HUGE amount of time obsessing over him, though.


message 13: by Eve (new)

Eve Davids Oh boy .... Here I was, about to buy this on Kindle. Sigh.


Tatiana Wendy Darling wrote: "Okay, you've got me there, Leanne. Mara is better than all three of those lovelorn ladies, if only because her love interest is also better than the rapey ones. (So far, at least.) She does spend a..."

I agree with Wendy, Mara herself is not that bad and there are worse guys than Noah. It's the book that's crap.


Wendy Darling Oh Duchess...my poor Kindle quivered in fear at the way I was gripping it a few times from frustration.


Tatiana I hope you will write a review, Wendy?


Wendy Darling Yes, I'm itching to get my frustration down in words, Tatiana. I need to step away from it for a bit, though, I don't like writing reviews in the heat of the moment.


Giselle Oh wow this is the first bad rating I've seen. :( I'm planning on reading this next.


message 19: by Eve (new)

Eve Davids Yeah, your reviews are usually spot on, so library is where this will be coming from.

Have you read The Night Circus, Wendy? I'm really curious to see what you think about it. It was a 2-3 star book for me, but I suppose what's still eating me is that I cant seem to make up my mind.


message 20: by Lisa (new) - rated it 1 star

Lisa Wendy Darling wrote: "Yes, I'm itching to get my frustration down in words, Tatiana. I need to step away from it for a bit, though, I don't like writing reviews in the heat of the moment."

I'll be looking out for your review. I can't wait to hear your thoughts.


message 21: by Marulett (new) - added it

Marulett Oh no....the book it´s that bad?? I was really looking forward to reading it...


The Holy Terror Argh, no! And this sounded so good!


message 23: by Wendy Darling (last edited Oct 03, 2011 04:45PM) (new) - rated it 1 star

Wendy Darling The book has an extremely high rating for sure, Giselle--most of my friends really did enjoy this a lot. Don't let my reaction dissuade you, it's always good to compare notes on this stuff.

I would push for library over purchase for this, Duchess, so I'm glad I caught you in time! I have Night Circus waiting TBR...I love the idea and I do like pretty imagery, but a lot of reviews from friends I trust have been fair to middling, so I'm not surprised to hear you say that.

Lisa...hopefully tomorrow. If I've calmed down sufficiently.

Sorry Marulett, I didn't enjoy this one. But you may like it better than I did, so don't be too upset!


Wendy Darling I know, THT. The .5 is for the premise, which I really liked. But the execution...ugh.


message 25: by H.D. (new) - rated it 5 stars

H.D. Tolson ONE STAR? Wow! I need to see your complete review! I hope it's up soon!


Giselle Oh well. I won this on a blog giveaway so if I hate it I didn't waste any money haha. Looking forward to comparing notes though.


message 27: by Sarah (new)

Sarah I was interested in this one, but a few people I trust said it isn't worth the effort. I'd hoped you might feel differently, but now I'm starting to think I should spend my reading time elsewhere.


Wendy Darling Technically, 1.5 stars, H.D...and I'll try to have it posted tomorrow. I need to think about it some more.

Thank goodness, Giselle. ;)

Sarah...I'm not going to argue with your decision, hah.


message 29: by H.D. (new) - rated it 5 stars

H.D. Tolson 1.5, excuse me ;) I understand thinking about it!


The Holy Terror Wendy Darling wrote: "I know, THT. The .5 is for the premise, which I really liked. But the execution...ugh."

Dang, this is almost 500 pages, so even though my library has a copy on order I don't think I read yet another book you hated.

We don't always agree, but our 1s and 5s are pretty close. So I'll just let you keep taking one for the team. :p


Michelle, the Bookshelf Stalker Wendy Darling wrote: "Technically, 1.5 stars, H.D...and I'll try to have it posted tomorrow. I need to think about it some more.

Thank goodness, Giselle. ;)

Sarah...I'm not going to argue with your decision, hah."


I was going to "like" your review but then I didn't want you to think I was liking the fact that you now have a headache. :(

Sorry the book didn't work for you.


message 32: by Wendy Darling (last edited Oct 03, 2011 04:54PM) (new) - rated it 1 star

Wendy Darling It actually reads pretty quickly, Shannon, and I was kind of into it in the beginning. But then a boy shows up and everything goes plummeting downhill.

Thanks for not adding to my complex, btw. Maybe if you stagger reading the books that irritate me a bit instead of reading them all at once. ;)

Hah, Michelle. You always make me laugh, even when I'm annoyed.


message 33: by The Holy Terror (last edited Oct 03, 2011 05:00PM) (new) - added it

The Holy Terror Wendy Darling wrote: "Maybe if you stagger reading the books that irritate me a bit instead of reading them all at once. ;)"

Ha! Perhaps. Misfit is due back at the library tomorrow too, I just haven't felt the need to read it. And I've renewed Wildefire twice now. Fateful is going back to the library with Misfit tomorrow, I'm not even going to crack it open.

I don't think I'm going to remove Mara from my shelves just yet, but I am going to remove my hold at the library.


message 34: by K. (new) - added it

K. Ooo snark on this, please!


Wendy Darling Oh goody, we can start with a clean slate! I hope you get Liesl & Po in from the library soon, Shannon, I really want to see your status updates. The language is so beautiful. I want to read it all over again to cleanse my mind after this.

K., snark is pretty much a given. I'm going to have to watch that it doesn't become an all out bitchfest really rude and unhelpful.


The Holy Terror Me too! If they don't have it on order by the end of the week I'm going to put in a purchase request. So far they've ordered every book I've asked for ...


Wendy Darling That's some library you've got there. There were all kinds of budget cuts to our library a couple of years ago, so they're sadly always struggling. :(


Wendy Darling Although it IS a very good library system overall. I was actually really surprised when we moved here.


The Holy Terror Wendy Darling wrote: "That's some library you've got there. There were all kinds of budget cuts to our library a couple of years ago, so they're sadly always struggling. :("

My library is INSANE. It's not just YA that they have a good selection of, either. I am really, really lucky.


Donna  Happy Booker Oh no! This is one that I've been so anxious to read. I can't wait to read your full review!


Wendy Darling I know, I was so looking forward to it, Donna. :(


message 42: by Samantha (new) - added it

Samantha Souza Gah! I'm so glad I didn't pick this up when I went shopping. I had it in my cart and put it back!! Whew **wipes sweat from forehead** that was a close one!


Wendy Darling Close call, Samantha. Close call. ;)


message 44: by Samantha (new) - added it

Samantha Souza I would have returned it if I didn't like it, but I might just read it for shits n giggles. I will be spending my money on Anna Dressed in Blood over this though. I still have two more books to read before I'm allowed anymore so I better hop to them. Looking forward to your review on this.


Wendy Darling Ooo yes, read Anna, Samantha! Anna kicks Mara's ass. Although really, Anna would kick anyone's ass.


message 46: by Samantha (new) - added it

Samantha Souza Haha. I better get through these two books quickly then!! Ugh I can't wait to get my hands on that book!!


The Holy Terror Wendy Darling wrote: "Although really, Anna would kick anyone's ass."

This is true.


Wendy Darling See, THT knows! Have you seen the Anna hardcover yet, Samantha? It's so gorgeous! I kept petting it when it arrived. So shiny. So pretty.


message 49: by Surin (new) - rated it 1 star

Surin Wendy Darling wrote: "Ooo yes, read Anna, Samantha! Anna kicks Mara's ass. Although really, Anna would kick anyone's ass."

I totally second that! And dang, the first physical book I've bought in ages and it could potentially be quite crappy. I trust your taste in books Wendy cause it seems we've got a fairly similar vibe for books. So I'm gonna have to say 'oh nooooooooooo!!'. I'll still read it though since it's there but I think it's gonna give me a headache too. :(

and yes Anna Dressed in Blood hardcover is sooooo pretty. After purchasing the ebook, I couldn't resist getting the hardcover because I just love Anna!


message 50: by Samantha (new) - added it

Samantha Souza I have not. I'm starting to think I will have to order it online to actually see it in person. All the bookstores are out of copies. :-( I know this rule is for my own good, but I'm really starting to resent my love right now.


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