The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer, by Michelle Hodkin
This is a good time to be a young adult reader (or any kind of reader, really), and after the flood of vampires and zombies, The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer takes its readers in a different direction, without losing any of the tension and terror that have proved so popular.
Mara Dyer begins with a bang, with the main character announcing that not only is Mara Dyer not her real name but also that she was, somehow, involved with the murder of three other teenagers, just a few months before she began to tell her story. Mara is in hiding. Her name, her past, and her memories are all buried deep, hidden under a layer of nightmare that disturbs even her waking hours. Her family has relocated to a new town, one free from the terror that haunted Mara’s former life, but she has brought the taint of her past actions with her and the past is not so easily forgotten.
There is, of course, a boy. Noah is mysterious. A boy with a reputation, and a past, but Mara finds herself drawn to him, hoping that he might be a safe harbour in an increasingly terrifying life. He may not be what he seems, though, and attracting the attention of one of the most popular boys in school could be a complication that Mara should do without. Mara finds herself increasingly isolated, the subject of hostility in her new school and confusion and worry at home. She is losing time and finding herself in danger and confusion, unable to trust her own instincts. Mara feels damaged, bruised, and broken, in danger of shattering, in danger of losing herself.
Mara Dyer is fast paced and suspenseful, but Hodkin never loses sight of the ridiculous nature of much of high school and teenage life. Even when terrified, Mara is a sharp and tenacious girl with a sense of humour and sarcastic way of looking at the world around her. Hodkin has a way with words, and a keen sense of how to write suspense. Mara is truly terrified, and the writing is fast paced, the sort of writing that makes readers stay up late, commuters miss their stops, and students hide copies under the desk, snatching minutes here and there to find what happens next.
I vacated the classroom. My body felt wiggly as I walked, like a loose tooth that could be dislodged by the slightest force. When I no longer heard the whispers or the teacher’s shaky voice, I almost broke into a run. I even missed the girls’ bathroom at first, barely registering the swinging door. I doubled back and, once inside, focused on the pattern of the hideous yolk-colored tile, counted the number of stalls, did anything I could to avoid looking at myself in the mirror. I tried to calm myself, hoping to stave off the panic attack that would follow the sight of blood.
Mara Dyer is frightening, thrilling, funny, and poignant. The first in a series, it ends not so much on a cliff hanger as a free jump, with the rush and sharp intake of breath that makes the promise of a sequel all the more important.