Angela's Reviews > The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer

The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer by Michelle Hodkin
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's review
Sep 30, 2011

did not like it
bookshelves: arc, young-adult, read-in-2011, pn-romance
Read from August 28 to 30, 2011

Convoluted plot & stereotypical romance disappoint, 1.5 stars

In Michelle Hodkin’s debut novel, The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer, Mara wakes up from a horrible accident with no memory of what happened. All she knows is what her family tells her: that her best friend, her boyfriend, and her boyfriend’s sister were crushed to death in a collapsing house, but she somehow survived. Her family soon moves to Florida when the situation gets too much to bear, but little snippets of Mara’s memories start coming back to her, painting a disturbing image of what may have happened. When the beautiful but enigmatic Noah enters the picture, things get even more complicated.

Despite the book’s promise to be a paranormal thriller steeped in mystery and romance, The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer fell flat for me in many ways. Most notably, the novel got wrapped up in too many convoluted plot threads that didn’t coalesce into a coherent story. The paranormal aspect went mostly ignored after the introductory chapters, and when it reappeared 300 pages later, it was poorly executed. Much of the information revealed toward the end of the story was either completely out of left field and nonsensical or, alternatively, very predictable. Some of the reveals even contradicted earlier information.

The story also got bogged down in the romance, which dominated in lieu of the paranormal or mystery plotlines. The love interest, Noah, came across as little more than the stereotypical hot jerk: he’s full of sex appeal, arrogance, and a smarmy personality, and he only speaks in terms of sexual innuendo. Even when Mara inevitably found his softer side, it wasn’t convincing or swoon-worthy (and he still did incomprehensible things like beat people to a pulp regularly on her behalf). The story just relied too heavily on one cliché after another, like the bad but beautiful boy and made-up reasons they can’t be intimate. Characters were inconsistent in non-believable ways, and secondary characters felt one-dimensional (e.g., the minority as the token friend, the jealous mean girl). The dialogue and sentence construction also sometimes felt awkward in its attempts to come across as “teen speak.” Finally, while the ending could have been risky, the author took an easy way out and introduced a cliffhanger on which to pin the next book.

Despite all of these negatives, Mara’s character did show moments of spark, self-confidence, and foul-mouthed realism, and some of the opening scenes and flashbacks had genuine creep factor. There were even some good attempts at including more diversity than normally seen, such as Mara being half-Indian or the couple going into the barrios of Miami. Even such, I couldn’t enjoy a book that left so much to be desired in regard to the story and the romance. In the forthcoming sequel, I hope that Hodkin gives readers more in the way of a coherent plot and believable, likable characters.

Note: This review refers to an advance reader's copy.
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Reading Progress

08/28/2011 page 110
24.0% "Not feeling this yet and wondering if even intelligent teens even speak this way, especially those experiencing PTSD and paranormal problems. Also, bad snarky boy = hot boy is not working for me yet."
08/29/2011 page 286
64.0% "If I read about this guy's tousled hair falling in his eyes one more time or having his hand raked through it, I may consider pulling out my own."

Comments (showing 1-50 of 69) (69 new)

Wendy Darling Oh no!'s such a beautiful cover...!

message 2: by Angela (last edited Aug 30, 2011 10:12PM) (new) - rated it 1 star

Angela I know, I know...but the cover is a just a facade for the convoluted shamble of a story that's inside. That was harsh for me, but I felt completely and utterly disappointed with this one, despite its pretty and evocative cover (which has no relation to the contents).

For a non-spoilery review of this that sums up pretty much how I felt, read Tatiana's review. She let me get my rant on earlier in the comments thread so I could vent my frustration. :)

message 3: by Sandy (new) - added it

Sandy Angela, I must hear your thoughts! I've heard people compare the mood to Hush, Hush's, which is never good. This guy sounds like Patch all over again.

message 4: by Angela (last edited Aug 31, 2011 05:06AM) (new) - rated it 1 star

Angela @Sandy: He's not as bad as Patch and he does come around eventually, but I can see that comparison. For the first big chunk of the book, he's a completely full of himself jerk who's already slept with every other girl in school, discarded them, and broken hearts in the process.

This book plays up the obvious trope of "I've been a man whore before, but with you, I'll change my ways, not use you for sex, and even drive you to school as my girlfriend to show how awesome you are." And then we're supposed to swoon when we see that he's not really a jerk inside. Of course, his sexually-laden innuendo and confidence in his ability to turn on said protagonist continues throughout. Ack.

message 5: by I am Bastet (new)

I am Bastet Oh no, that bad?

Angela @Isis: Oh yes, that bad. Sadly.

Wendy Darling Wow, that sounds really bad. I wonder if that's why it wasn't on GG...although that hasn't stopped other titles from being available, hah.

Angela @Wendy: You and others might like it better, but it was a big pot o' fail for me. And yes, I doubt quality matters when it comes to companies pimping their products. Ha.

message 9: by Sandy (new) - added it

Sandy Angela, you're very judicious in passing out the one-star reviews, so if you say its a "big pot o' fail" for you, I happily trust your judgment.

Let this cover join the ranks of Fallen, Halo, and Hush, Hush where that fab cover is just overcompensating for what's inside.

message 10: by Angela (last edited Aug 31, 2011 08:01PM) (new) - rated it 1 star

Angela @Sandy: Well, thanks for the vote of confidence! I am just always sure to not assume that my tastes will match others, even those with whom I normally agree. Even our great minds don't always think alike. ;) (For example, I really liked Blood Magic but Wendy did not; or you loved Delirium and I couldn't stomach it much.)

message 11: by I am Bastet (new)

I am Bastet Oh dear. Great review. I'm so disappointed to hear that this story succumbs to a lot of the YA cliches that suck so much.

Wendy Darling My expectations have plummeted after reading your review, as I know you don't say this kind of stuff lightly. And:

he only speaks in terms of sexual innuendo


What a waste of a gorgeous cover. :(

message 13: by Cory (last edited Sep 30, 2011 01:54PM) (new) - added it

Cory So what is the big secret? So far, I don't really know what's paranormal about this book.

Tatiana liked The Adoration of Jenna Fox and I kind of liked it as well. The set ups (amnesia girls) are kind of similar. It might wash the taste of this out of your brain.

message 14: by Tatiana (last edited Sep 30, 2011 01:58PM) (new) - rated it 1 star

Tatiana The big secret is (view spoiler). Right, Angela?

message 15: by I am Bastet (new)

I am Bastet That's the secret? I guessed that based on the book blurb.

Angela @All: WOW. I have never gotten four likes within moments of posting. Thanks. I guess you all *were* really waiting for it. ;)

I just posted it on Amazon too, but on there I'm awaiting the onslaught of negative votes since I'm the *only* person who's given it below a 3-star review. Amazon also isn't even showing my review as the "most helpful critical" review either, despite it being the most recent one and with no votes yet. I'm guessing they've created a new algorithm to have the 3-stars appear in that box instead of the lower scores.

@Isis: Thanks. I did find it cliche and bothersome, but I still kept reading. I fear that I'm in the minority on my opinion on this one.

@Wendy: Yep, a totally gorgeous (and unrelated) cover to mask the frustrating contents inside. Sigh.

Tatiana Angela, after hearing that Amazon doesn't even post all negatives, I don't bother to post. It brings nothing but hateful comments from anonymous crazies and negative votes. So I appreciate your brave move:)

message 18: by Cory (last edited Sep 30, 2011 02:03PM) (new) - added it

Cory Tatiana wrote: "The big secret is [spoilers removed]. Right, Angela?"


I will not be reading this.

message 19: by I am Bastet (new)

I am Bastet And, I think people must really love that recycled convoluted plot because books keep coming out with the same general premise and the same asshole boyfriend.

message 20: by Cory (new) - added it

Cory I wrote: "And, I think people must really love that recycled convoluted plot because books keep coming out with the same general premise and the same asshole boyfriend."


@Angela: I liked your review on Amazon. It was rather easy to find.

Tatiana I voted too, so yours is visible now:)

Angela @Tatiana, Cory, & Isis: Regarding one of the big reveals, yep, that's it. (view spoiler) So disappointing.

And the other reveals (view spoiler) come from nowhere and are then played to plot points that are nonsensical. The worst part is the great alligator debacle in the Everglades, I kid not. Right, Tatiana?

Angela Ahhh, I can't keep up with all of your awesome comments. :)

Tatiana Alligator and her father's problems and that other boyfriend, it all became a total mess in the end.

Angela @Tatiana & Cory: Thanks for the Amazon votes! All of my reviews have always gotten posted, so I keep putting them there, even if I'll get slammed. At least now that I'm already part of the Vine program, I don't get as sad when I see my rank go down accordingly.

message 26: by Cory (new) - added it

Cory Why? But what is her big power? Who's the villain? And are these questions dumb? I'm so confused. Even Twilight is easier to understand.

Angela Tatiana wrote: "Alligator and her father's problems and that other boyfriend, it all became a total mess in the end."

A complete and total mess. Bahhh.

Angela @Cory: Her big power is that (view spoiler)

message 29: by Cory (new) - added it

Cory Um. How does that work? What are the rules? Just poof and boom?

message 30: by Angela (last edited Sep 30, 2011 02:25PM) (new) - rated it 1 star

Angela @Cory: But! And do not read this spoiler, anyone, unless you want the entire book's plot revealed; ranting follows.

(view spoiler)

message 31: by I am Bastet (new)

I am Bastet Oh, ok, so they can have sex but not kiss. Like prostitutes!

So someone who's read the book: what is up with the title?

Angela I wrote: "Oh, ok, so they can have sex but not kiss. Like prostitutes!

So someone who's read the book: what is up with the title?"

@Isis: Hahahahaha. That totally reminds me of the scene from Pretty Woman where that's explained.

The "unbecoming" part of the title is referenced once or twice in the book, and I think it refers to how Mara is coming apart as she learns more about what happened the night of the accident (view spoiler)

message 33: by Cory (last edited Sep 30, 2011 02:33PM) (new) - added it

Cory You have fried my brain. More no-kissing is dramaz like in Evermore, eh? No thank you. I lasted through five books of that bs.

message 34: by I am Bastet (new)

I am Bastet Huh. That's pretty meh.

Angela Cory wrote: "You have fried my brain. More no-kissing is dramaz like in Evermore, eh? No thank you. I lasted through five books of that bs."

I have not partaken of the crazy that is the Evermore series, and I am glad based on what I've heard. There is no real explanation given in this book as to why (view spoiler)

message 36: by Angela (last edited Sep 30, 2011 02:41PM) (new) - rated it 1 star

Angela I wrote: "Huh. That's pretty meh."

Totally meh. One disappointment was that such a beautiful cover and a thought-provoking title didn't really add to anything.

message 37: by Phoebe (new)

Phoebe I liked this one, but I just wanted to pop in and say that The Story Siren TOTALLY spoiled this one in an interview with Michelle Hodkin at BEA. (view spoiler) The author looked horrified. I'm usually not spoiler averse (and you guys are right; it's not a huge spoiler, and is strongly telegraphed), but that bugged me enough that I've been waiting for a moment to rant about it. ;)

Angela @Phoebe: Thanks for stopping by to comment. Even though we had very different opinions of this book, I liked your review and appreciated your take on it when I read it a while back.

That *is* horrifying that The Story Siren did that to the author at BEA, as that is one of the major plot points. Even though it wasn't that surprising to me, I was careful to make sure I didn't disclose that in my review or in the comments. If we missed a place in the comments that was spoilery, let us know as I *am* very averse to spoilers and wouldn't want that to happen to someone else.

message 39: by Phoebe (new)

Phoebe No, no, you guys were fine! I was actually thinking how ironic it is that you were able to have a whole conversation about the spoiler without ruining it for other peeps.

Angela, I'm curious--did you like/read LJ Smith's Dark Visions series? This one reminded me of that, and I suspect a lot of my affection for it was because it scratched the same itch. I can definitely understand complaints about Noah. He was pretty borderline for me.

Angela @Phoebe: Glad to know that we were playing well by our own self-imposed spoilery rules. :)

No, I have not read the Dark Visions series so I can't comment on the similarities. The only L. J. Smith I've read are the first five Vampire Diaries books, which I picked up right after the TV series began.

And yes...Noah. I read your review before I started this book, so I knew that you had a feminist take on it and I was excited to see that (i.e, the whole turn-around of the PUA thing), but I just didn't get that from it, sadly. (view spoiler)

message 41: by Phoebe (new)

Phoebe (view spoiler) That was my read on it at least, but I can understand why the book didn't work for people. Generally, with highly commercial paranormal romance like this, I judge it on different grounds from, say, literary YA, in that I expect the plot to be entertaining if not particularly deep, I expect it to address teenage anxieties in a way that make more sense metaphorically than perhaps literally, I expect the prose to be functional, but not flashy. My own standards adjust to the genre in certain ways, I suppose. I know a lot of readers and reviewers I respect tons don't interact with books in the same way, so I'm not surprised when something like this doesn't work for others.

message 42: by Tatiana (last edited Oct 01, 2011 08:12AM) (new) - rated it 1 star

Tatiana I have read "Dark Visions" and it's probably my most favorite trilogy of Smith's, but I admit, I didn't quite see any similarities between these two works, except maybe the concept of powers?

message 43: by Phoebe (new)

Phoebe Tatiana wrote: "I have read "Dark Visions" and it's probably my most favorite trilogy of Smith's, but I admit, I didn't quite see any similarities between these two works, except maybe the concept of powers."

Really? I thought that atmospherically, they were very similar, and that Gabriel's powers were fairly similar to Mara's, both in a literal and a metaphorical sense. Not identical, but similar, at least.

Tatiana It is possible I don't remember details of DV very well, it's been awhile. I can only vouch that my experience with DV was much more satisfying.

message 45: by Phoebe (new)

Phoebe Fair 'nuff!

Angela @Phoebe: (view spoiler)

And I think I judge YA in a way similar to yours, as I'm very willing to give high marks (4-stars or even 5-stars) to books that work for me on an entertaining or simple emotional level, even if they're not amazing in a literary sense. (See evidence in my ratings of Matched and The Dark Divine.) It's just that Mara Dyer didn't entertain or engage me in the same way b/c I was too caught up in not liking Noah and being distracted by the plot. But that's the beauty of different readers and different experiences: we all can like what we like. :)

message 47: by Phoebe (new)

Phoebe Ah, see, and Matched really didn't work for me! Too slow, too bland. I guess when I reach for stuff like this, I really want fast-paced, chewy bubblegum.

But that's the beauty of different readers and different experiences: we all can like what we like.


message 48: by Eve (new)

Eve Davids Brilliant review, Angela. This looks like a Hush Hush Twin, unfortunately.

Angela @TheDuchess: Why thank you! *blushes* They are book siblings at the very least.

message 50: by Lisa (new) - rated it 1 star

Lisa Great review. I'm impressed by how you've managed to talk about spoilers without spoiling. Even with spoiler tags I've been spoiled by comments before. This review, along with Wendy's and Tatiana's, paint a very poor picture of this book.

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