Monday, September 22, 2014

Review - The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer

The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer (Mara Dyer #1)
by Michelle Hodkin
Date: 2011
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers
Reading level: YA
Book type: prose novel
Pages: 466
Format: e-book

Mara Dyer believes life can't get any stranger than waking up in a hospital with no memory of how she got there.
It can.

She believes there must be more to the accident she can't remember that killed her friends and left her strangely unharmed.
There is.

She doesn't believe that after everything she's been through, she can fall in love.
She's wrong.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

It's interesting that I chose to read this book soon after Megan Miranda's Fracture, given the similarities between the plots of the two books.  The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer was the better of the two stories... but not by much.

The writing in this book was pretty bad.  If the author wasn't forgetting where she'd put her characters from one moment to the next (leading to weird scenes where characters who are sitting across from each other at a table are somehow able to discreetly clasp hands under it, or Mara putting the same book in her bag more than once within a couple of pages), she was trying to subtly give grammar Nazis the finger by improperly conjugating verbs, using the wrong words, and continually using a semicolon when what she really needed was a colon.  There were so many mistakes that I wondered at one point if they were intentional, a sort of "Spot the Mistakes" game for readers to play.

And all of that was in addition to the horrendous Kindle edition which, while not the fault of the author, kept me from reading along without interruption.  When there's missing punctuation and even missing line breaks (usually in the middle of a conversation, so I'd have to puzzle out who was saying what before I could continue), it really disrupts the flow.

The characters... well, I didn't really feel one way or the other about them.  Mara is an antihero (in case you miss all those hints her English teacher drops).  I liked that she wasn't the same vanilla Caucasian kid that's so pervasive in YA books.  Having an Indian mother made her a little different.  However, aside from Jamie (the school's token black Jewish bisexual), there's not much else in the way of diversity.  Noah, the love interest, was kind of a nice guy, despite what everybody else (including Mara) said about him.  I don't think I've ever seen such a blatant display of telling versus showing.  Everybody keeps saying that Noah's such an ass, but that's in such contradiction to what we're shown about him that it rings false.  He can be haughty and cocky and teasing... but he never seems really mean about it.  It's like everybody is projecting onto him or something, as if continually calling him a jerk will make it so.  (Keep in mind that I recently read Obsidian by Jennifer L. Armentrout, which set the asshole bar pretty high.  Pretty much anyone is bound to look like an angel next to Daemon Black.)  The only thing that kind of turned me off of Noah was his possessive language; I didn't like how he kept referring to Mara as "his".  Mara herself was kind of a blank, and she wasn't really written very well.  Her main emotion seemed to be suspicion, since her oft-repeated facial expression was narrowing her eyes.  (Just for laughs, search your Kindle edition for the word "narrowed".  Go on, try it!)  It also took a while for me to figure out she was into art.  Maybe I missed the hints... I don't know.  I was kind of zoned out for a lot of the book.

I kind of lost interest and had to force myself to finish because the pacing was really off.  I knew there was something going on and I wanted to find out what it was (even though I guessed pretty early in the story), so I kept reading.  While I do appreciate that the author was trying to develop Mara and Noah's relationship so that it wouldn't seem like insta-love, it did slow down the pace of the story.  Aside from a couple of interesting incidents in the middle of the book, nothing of note really happened until almost three-quarters of the way through.  And then there was a rush of action at the end and the obligatory cliffhanger.

A couple of other things really bugged me.  The characters are shown using cell phones while driving.  This book is not that old, and we've known the dangers of this for a while; I expect better, especially in a book aimed at teenagers.  Second, while driving their cars, the characters drive recklessly fast.  Mara is going 90 miles per hour at one point, and Noah clocks 95.  Aside from being completely irresponsible, this also made no sense because the author had previously established that Miami has "agonizingly slow" bumper-to-bumper traffic on the highways.  Oops.

One of the best pieces of advice for writers that I've read was from Stephen King.  I believe it was from his book On Writing.  He recommended that, once you finish a first draft, you put it away for six weeks and go work on something else.  When you come back to your manuscript and read it again, you'll be doing so with fresh eyes and it'll be easier to spot your mistakes.  I have a feeling that very few authors do this; from what I can deduce from the shoddily edited books I've had to slog through recently, they're rushed to press with barely any editing or proofreading.  It shows.

Quotable moment:

I was drunk with happiness, intoxicated by him. I felt a stab of pity for Anna and for all the girls who may or may not have come before, and what they lost. And that birthed the follow-up thought of just how much it would hurt me to lose him, too. His presence blunted the edges of my madness, and it was almost enough to make me forget what I'd done.

Recommended to: fans of YA paranormal fiction who don't mind lots and lots of technical writing errors

Plot: 2/5
Characters: 3/5
Pace: 2/5
Writing & Editing: 2/5
Originality: 3/5

Enjoyment: 2/5

Overall Rating: 2.29 out of 5 ladybugs

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