28 Oct

YA Cafe Book Club: The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer

Posted in Book Club, Literature, Reading, Teen Lit, YA Cafe

Welcome Back to YA Cafe, where book lovers can gather and chat about teen literature. I’m your barista, along with Ghenet from All About Them Words.  Each Friday we pick from a menu of topics and share our thoughts on our respective blogs.

Today’s Special: The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer by Michelle Hodkin

This month we talked about FEAR in YA and for today’s book club, Ghenet and I have chosen out books that we think represent this topic.  For my pick, I selected The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer by Michelle Hodkin, a psychological thriller with a bit of a paranormal twist.

***SPOILER ALERT: This post may contain spoilers!***

First, let me set the scene for my esperience reading it.  I pulled this book off the shelf the weekend Hurricane Irene hit in New York, thinking “We’ll be stuck inside all weekend and the power might go out so I need something really good for hurricane reading.”  We live in a highrise with wall-to-wall windows and while we didn’t have to evacuate, we were advised to brave the hurricane in some part of the apartment far from the windows.  Since the worst of the storm was at night, we pulled out our sleeping bags and curled up in the hallway for an indoor camping adventure.

Anyone who’s ever spent a hurricane in a highrise knows how loud those storms can be.  There was no way I was getting any sleep, so I pulled out The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer and my reading light and I started reading.  And I couldn’t stop.  I read almost the whole thing in that one night as the wind whooshed around the building and the rain pelted the windows.

What makes this book so scary and suspenseful?

It has an unexpected villain.  For most of the book, the protagonist Mara Dyer is her own worst enemy.  The story starts with her waking up in the hospital with no memory of how she got there and discovering that her best friends are dead.  As the book continues, Mara begins regaining bits and pieces of her memory, leading her to believe that maybe she was responsible for her friends’ deaths.  As readers, we’re used to thrillers where the antagonist is a character apart from the protagonist, but in this story, it appears that Mara is both protagonist and antagonist, which is a unique twist.

The author takes major risks in terms of TRUST, but the payoff is worth it.  Last week when we talked about suspense, I emphasized how important it is for the reader to trust the author.  In this book, Michelle Hodkin takes some big risks in terms of playing with our trust.  First off, because Mara can’t remember key events in the story, we can’t fully trust her as the protagonist and narrator.  An unreliable narrator is always risky.

But that’s not the only risk the author takes.  Characters we think are the “good guys” turn out to be more sinister than we thought and characters we’re convinced are evil turn out to be in Mara’s corner.  No one is what they seem to be.  This is a risky move for an author because we can’t trust the narrator/protagonist and we can’t really trust the secondary characters either. So, who do we trust?

We trust the author.  Ultimately, this is what all good writing comes down to: you don’t have to trust any of the characters as long as you know the author is in control and knows what she’s doing.  This trust is what allowed me to keep turning pages, even when I had no idea where the story was going or which character I should be rooting for.  I knew I could trust the author to pull it all together at the end.

Speaking of endings… this ending had one crazy cliffhanger.  Normally, a cliffhanger ending would really annoy me as a reader.  I like having some sort of closure when I finish a book, even if I know it’s part of a series.  With this book, though, the cliffhanger ending didn’t bother me as much.  Again, it all comes down to trust; by the time I reached the ending, I knew I could trust that the author had a master-plan in mind, so I was able to accept the cliffhanger.  Because the author did such a good job of earning my reader-trust, I was willing to give the ending the benefit of the doubt, trusting that there is some good reason for that cliffhanger.

What about you?  What scary book did you choose to read this month?  Tweet the title using the #YAcafe hash tag!

Check out Ghenet’s book club post on her blog: All About Them Words.  And don’t forget to join the conversation on twitter!

One comment »

Comments on this post

  1. Ghenet Myrthil says:

    I’m going to wait to read your post because I haven’t read this book yet! But I’m looking forward to reading it – I’ve heard it’s great. 🙂

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