So before I begin this legitimate review, I have to show this review from baby me that didn't know how to separate feelings from writing reviews: "OH MY GOSH!!!!!!!!!!! AHHH!!!!!!! If I was someone who cursed, I would be in soooo much trouble right now, this book is so incredible. MUST READ." I still don't entirely know how to separate those feelings, but I like to think that I'm better at it now. I also apparently didn't curse back then... hmmmmm.... anyway, here we go. >:)
Since first reading this book back in 2013, I have always been in love with this entire series and every book in it with no exceptions. I have to say though, that this is the first time I've reread the entire first book, and I HIGHLY recommend rereading this series, because this second time around was so much better than the first. The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer is a beautifully creepy story that will wrap itself around your mind and take root there. There is simply no getting it off your mind, so if you get freaked out easily, be warned. But really, there are so many different well-constructed elements of this book that there is probably something for near every reader. The writing is magical, the plot is definitely intriguing, and the characters are perfectly flawed and real.
What makes this all the more interesting, is that it is told in first person point of view from an unreliable narrator (Mara). There are some pretty strange happenings in this book, but the catch is that the reader can never really know what is real or not because while there are paranormal aspects in the book, Mara also has PTSD which makes her question everything. This is part of the reason why I would recommend reading it at least twice, because this second time through it read as all the more ingenious after knowing what happens in books 2 and 3, while also just being thoroughly enjoyable on its own again.
Here comes the big review. Please note, that while I have read the other books in this series at this point in writing, I will not take their events and details into consideration when reviewing this book. There will be absolutely no spoilers for the other two books and this review will be solely on the first book alone.
Looking back on it, there was not too much of an actual plot in this book. There is one, but it builds on the peripheral of the book's focus, which is developing the characters and mostly just trying to figure out if Mara is completely insane or if there's more to the story. This first book is almost all character development, but there are also some miniature plots that get explored, like how Mara's friendship with Jamie grows and develops, traveling to the weird priest with the chicken blood, and then of course the murder case and finding out Jude is alive. I think I would say that those two are the main ones, because there is groundwork for them throughout the majority of the book and they both have grand resolutions (in a literary sense) at the end of the story. Overall, I think the plot of this book really only serves as a setup so that the reader is prepared for whatever lies ahead.
Mara- Oh, Mara. I think that reading this book from Mara's point of view makes it the most unreliably narrated story that I have ever read. This does make the book all the more interesting though because then the reader's mind is always trying to figure out what is really happening too and is looking for clues in the words and always is wanting to turn the page to see what happens and if it is real or a figment of one of Mara's hallucinations. As a character, I really love how Mara is in no way "perfect". She is not a straight A student, she doesn't have extracurricular activities, and she talks about homework and tests. It all just made this book so much more realistic, because a lot of the time in YA books, the reader doesn't really get to see that mundane stuff. But here, it is front and center and I think that it is done brilliantly.
Noah- I don't even know where to begin with Noah Shaw. He is a bit arrogant, a bit sassy, and a bit entitled, but he is also entirely genuine in himself and cares astronomically about so many things. He is slightly stereotypical as the YA love interest, but he wears it so well that I don't think anyone can really count it as a fault for him. There are just so many parts of his personality and character that break my heart, like how he got angry on behalf of Mabel when Mara first found her, and then he proceeded to spend the night in the vet's office to make sure Mabel recovered. Credit also has to be given to him for sticking by Mara's side even though she is very dark and twisty. Even despite her telling him that she wants to see the criminal killed after they have the revelation about what they can do, he still believes that she is good and won't do it. Jury's still out in my opinion as to whether or not she did cause the killer's death.
Jamie- I love this kid. He also has his own issues, but I think for the most part it is commendable how good of a friend he is to Mara and everything that he does for her, even though they've only known each other for a few months. He does disappear from the book randomly. That is I think one of the few faults of this book. I don't know why exactly he had to leave the book like he did, but it seemed very abrupt. It did however solidify my hatred for the Evil Twins (Anna and Adrien).
Jude- This little bleeeeeeeeep. Feel free to fill that bleep in with any curse word of your choosing. I hate this character. Not in a way that I think that character was poorly written, but in a way that I hate the personality of this character and who they are. It is so awful, that I don't even want to dwell on it, and I don't think I need to either. I will add though that on top of everything else that he did, I hate Jude even more because at the end of the book with the reveal that he is still alive, there is also the revelation that he has been stalking and messing with Mara.
The Dyer Family- I really enjoyed how there was a family portrayal in this book. There's the mom, the dad, and the two brothers. There is literally a WHOLE family in this book, and they each get a fairly decent chunk of page time too. It really was done so well, that when Joseph was taken, the reader can't help but feel anxious along with Mara in more of a sense than just, "Oh, this is her little brother." No, it is in the sense of, "What! This adorable child that watches the news and is networking has been taken?!!?" The family dynamic and development in this book I think really adds to this story and makes it seem so much more rounded than if it didn't.
The biggest thing I can say about the writing, is that Mara is the most unreliable narrator ever. And I am very aware that I have pointed this out already. But looking at the actual writing, it is executed in such a good way where the reader cannot pick up on what is real or not based on the phrasing that Hodkin uses. It all flows together seamlessly, so no one, reader or Mara, can have a leg up as to if what is happening is real. Stepping away from this creepy factor, I also think that there are some really great funny lines in this book. The sass is original and well matched by the characters and put perfectly in their contexts.
One of the things that I love about this series is that it is framed by this cryptic opening letter that sets up not just this book, but the whole series, as a sort of confession. This letter, when I first read it, made everything all the more creepy. And then I found the backstory to the book, which made it all the more creepier, but also all the more amazing. The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer is one of my absolute favorite books that I have ever read and I cannot express fully the enjoyment that can be gotten from reading this book and this series. If you still have reservations about reading this book, I'll just finish with two words: Noah. Shaw.
Thanks for reading!