Book Review: The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer

maradyer

“If I were to live a thousand years, I would belong to you for all of them. If we were to live a thousand lives, I would want to make you mine in each one.”

Author: Michelle Hodkins
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Date Published: September 27, 2011
Number of Pages: 466
Series: The Mara Dyer Trilogy, book #1

What’s It About?
Mara Dyer wakes up in a hospital bed only to learn that she is the only survivor of a building collapse that claimed the lives of her best friend, her boyfriend and his sister. Wracked with survivors guilt and suffering from major PTSD Mara and her family moved to Florida to start over. Only Mara can’t. In a fragile emotional state Mara constantly has visions of her dead ex-boyfriend and his sister, terrible nightmares and hallucinations. It’s not until she meets Noah Shaw that she begins to suspect she may not be quite as normal as she once believed.

***Spoilers abound beware***

The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer is one of those books that has a great beginning. It opens with a confession – Mara Dyer (our heroines assumed name) is a murderer. How and why is yet to be determined. Mostly because Mara herself doesn’t know these answers. But she’s on a mission to find out. The set up is perfectly executed. From the very first page you’re hooked – you need to know the circumstances, you need to know Mara’s secrets. Author Michelle Hodkin starts the suspense high and manages to maintain it throughout.

How she does this though is both invigorating and frustrating as all hell because Mara Dyer you will soon discover is not the most reliable narrator. The fact is she’s suffering from PTSD, brought on by the major bought of survivors guilt she’s suffering from. A guilt that’s so encompassing it has her seeing things that aren’t there, suffering from nightmares and all around going loopy. To help assuage her precarious emotional state Mara’s parents decide a change of scenery may help and so the family up and moves to Miami, Florida.

The move however does nothing to help Mara, in fact it only seems to aggravate her precarious situation because soon she finds herself seeing her dead boyfriend all over the place. Stressed, depressed and convinced she’s totally lost the plot Mara’s life is in a seemingly endless downward spiral.

That is until she meets Noah Shaw – of course as YA trilogy’s dictate he’s beautiful, a real dream boat, wanted by every girl in the school. He’s smart and has a cute British accent to boot. He’s also apparently the school man-whore.

Now it just so happens that I’m a sucker for a well-written male love interest (I mean I’m not opposed to a female love interest but since that’s not the case in this book we need not discuss this further.) And Noah Shaw easily captures your “aw shucks” gene and refuses to let go. From the beginning the chemistry between Mara and Noah is intense, clever, witty and everything you kind of want. As Mara and Noah’s relationship develops – in, despite all of the crazy surrounding Mara, a relatively normal way. Noah pursues Mara, and eventually wins her over by protecting her from an incredibly awful high school mean girl.

This is all set up though, apart from showing the strength of the connection between the two characters, and revealing Noah’s true nature (mainly that he’s nothing at all like everyone says) it has little to do with the real story at hand. But it does set up what will no doubt become an incredibly heart-pounding and intense love story.

The real story develops slowly, with an increasing sense of urgency and creepiness. Weird things are afoot in the life of Mara Dyer – she keeps seeing her dead ex-boyfriend, objects in her room move around, and her father just so happens to be the lawyer for a wealthy man accused of brutally murdering a young girl.

As the story progresses more is revealed about that fateful night that Mara’s life changed. Hodkin uses dreams as her medium for major revelations, and because of this fact you can never be sure if Mara’s dreams/visions are true or if her mind is trying to come to terms with a terrible accident. Mara becomes convinced that she is the cause of the building collapse, that she somehow has the ability to kill people with her thoughts and is therefore a danger to everyone around her.

But as the reader you can never really be sure if what Mara believes is true or not, and Noah is no help in this matter. He’s indulgent to the point of detriment. Quite honestly you begin to question his sanity too.

But this is the brilliance of The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer – Hodkin keeps you guessing. Right until the end you can never be sure if you should believe Mara or Noah. What is reality and what is not flips back and forth, it’ll have you pulling out your hair and screaming “WHY? WHYYYYYYYY?!” But in the best way possible.

Add to this a great antagonist in Mara’s ex-possibly still alive, but probably not because a building totally collapsed on him-boyfriend Jude. Whether he’s real or simply a figment of her imagination he will give you the willies. Something about the brief flashback’s that allude to Jude, the small moments when he pops up in everyday life or when Mara suspects his existence tell you he’s an absolute skeeze. He is skin crawlingly demonic, and not knowing whether or not he’s there or not at times has you looking over your shoulder as you read. There’s nothing more delightful than a well written, creepy, scary, sociopathic foe. And in Jude you get one.

The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer is the first book in the Mara Dyer trilogy. Author Michelle Hodkin sets up a story full of proverbial twists and turns, with a main character who’s fragility is equalled only by her thirst for the truth. Add to that a swoon-worthy love interest and the most unreliable narration you could possibly imagine, Mara Dyer is as frustrating as it is thrilling, and comes highly recommended.

Advertisements

Flowers in the Attic – TV Movie

Top cheese network Lifetime’s much anticipated adaptation of the salacious, incest riddled, cos-02-Flowers-in-the-Attic-book-cover-mdnmelodramatic V.C. Andrews classic Flowers in the Attic premiered last night and with it came the collective release of many a bated breath for all those who devoured the Dollanganger series under the covers, late at night, flashlight in hand. Or, if you were me, openly, in the family room while your multitude of brothers watched some sports related movie and your mother took it at face value when you told her the book was about a girl growing a garden in an attic. Regardless, it’s almost a right of passage for thirteen-year-olds the world over to get their hands on a copy and blush over its many indecencies.

So it comes as no surprise that many a person was looking forward to spending a cold Saturday night in January at home, on the couch, to watch Don Draper’s daughter (Kiernan Shipka) take the lead as Cathy Dollanganger as she stumbles into a world of child abuse and ugh, brother lovin’.

And that’s okay, I won’t lie, I was one of those people. I even had a reminder set up on the TV. I watched, I shuddered, I laughed at the terribly bad acting, I felt strange disappointment that it wasn’t as blatantly prurient as I expected. Which says a lot about where my mind was at. (This is obviously something one shouldn’t freely admit to but it’s done, and I’m obviously too lazy to hold down the delete key so the admission stays!)

According to People magazine (that triumph in journalism) Lifetime’s Flowers in the Attic is “a gripping, psychologically coherent foray into American Gothic” I would say that was reaching. I don’t think people expect much from a Lifetime TV movie apart from excessive melodrama and questionable acting.  And really that’s the beauty of Lifetime. So Flowers in the Attic found its perfect home. And offered the chance for someone to finally answer the question: What does melodrama + melodrama =? Sadly it would seem the answer is not Uber-melodrama but rather a strange struggle between putting it all out there and maintaining some element of timidity.

So let’s set it up to knock it all down shall we?

The Acting

Oh Heather Graham, oh dear, dear, dear Heather Graham – she was kind of everything I wanted Corrine to be. Just vacuous. Vacuous with seedy undertones. A lot of people said her acting was awful. I agree, but I’d like to pretend that it was intentional. That the terrible acting was just an element of the character, who spent all of her life acting a certain way to get what she wants – that effusive happiness, all that child-like joyful innocence, none of it’s real. It’s all an act. Because deep down Corrine’s just as bat shit crazy as her bible thumping mother Olivia. It’s delightful.

The Dresden Dolls: Cathy, Christopher, Cory and Carrie

I’d like to thank the writer/writers for limiting the amount of lines given to the creepy Children of the Corn twins because every time they opened their mouths I couldn’t help but think “It’s quite possible I’d have locked them in the attic too.” Obviously I wouldn’t. But sometimes the thought is enough to satisfy.

I will give praise where praise is due, it can’t be easy for two young actors like Kiernan Shipka (Sally Draper guys. Sally freaking Draper) and Mason Dye (who let’s be honest is kind of dreamy in that whole clean cut, I’m on the row team and wear sweaters tied around my shoulders Yale graduate way) to take on roles that involve sibling lustin’, I mean I think if that were me I’d have spent all of my time giggling uncomfortably. But they did it, and I say this with a limited amount of irony, with class? If that’s possible.

And then there’s Ellen Burstyn – no one plays crazy old lady quite like her. Every time she uttered “Remember, God sees everything” I expected fire and brimstone. And though in the end it’s really awesomely ridiculous that a tiny hallway leading to the attic acts as her downfall, Burstyn plays it so beautifully you almost feel bad for dear ol’ granny. And then you remember that whole crazy abusing, locking her grandchildren in a room for years, calling them abominations and devil spawn thing and then you laugh because really Flowers in the Attic is amazing.

The Story

It’s so good guys. It’s just so bad it’s good. I love it. I’m obsessed. There’s so much crazy coming from all the adults and so much temperance from the kids, it’s like a weird Freaky Friday but with incest. Which isn’t cool but you know you read the books because of it. And watched the movie to see how it was done. And in the movie it just kind of happens. Like it was inevitable and so you know there you go. It was almost offensive in how seemingly accepting Cathy and Chris are about it. And okay there are many issues with how it happens in the book (that whole Cathy blaming herself for her brother raping her thing, definitely some sort of latent anti-rational thought on V.C. Andrews part) but the movie kind of made it seem romantic? I put a question mark there because ew.

As far as adaptations go though this one really did try to maintain the integrity of the original work, which I really appreciate. It’s definitely miles ahead of the dreadful 1987 film starring the original Buffy (Kristy Swanson) and Troy’s friend from The Goonies. It’s like cheesecake, you know it’s going to go straight to your thighs but you’re all “whatever” cause it’s delicious. But then after you’ve eaten the whole thing you can’t help but feel sick at how much you enjoyed it.

So in honour of the best piece of ridiculous, gothic horror, young adult melodrama out there let’s bask in this gem from the original book, and raise a glass to V.C. Andrews and her strange, twisted, over-the-top, theatrical stories of crazy, rich white people.

“There is no hate such as that born out of love betrayed- and my brain screamed out for revenge.” And cue Petals in the Wind. 

Book Review: Night of the Purple Moon

Author: Scott CramerPurpleMoon
Publisher: Train Renoir Publishing
Date Published: May 28, 2012
Number of Pages: 179 (Kobo)

Abby and Jordan Leigh were looking forward to watching the moon turn purple. Little did they know that the comet streaking through the night sky causing the purple phenomenon, was carrying a dangerous pathogen that would dramatically change life as they know it.

The first in his Toucan Trilogy – Night of the Purple Moon is an interesting twist on the post-apocalyptic, survival story. With a very subtle Lord of the Flies like undertone it never quite reaches the same extent of the dark, grisly, side of humanity thrown into chaos, instead offering only small glimpses.

Brother and sister Abby and Jordan Leigh faced with the fact that a seemingly harmless comet and the “space germs” it trailed across the earth have not only caused the death of their own parents but of just about every adult and teenager in the world are forced to band together to take care of their three-year-old sister Toucan and figure out how to survive in a world without adults. Soon Abby and Jordan are joined by Kevin and Emily Patel – with the Patel’s, specifically the scientifically inclined Kevin, Abby and Jordan learn that the space germs attack hormones – putting anyone who has entered puberty at risk. Knowing the cause of the epidemic and how it acts as a ticking time bomb for anyone on the verge of puberty, Abby, Jordan, Emily and Kevin soon collect all the surviving children on Castine Island and begin to rebuild society to the best of their abilities.

Night of the Purple Moon has great moments of being a captivating read – in Abby and Jordan Leigh, Cramer has created two interesting main characters whose overall personalities both clash and remain strikingly similar (which makes sense with them being siblings.) The back and forth perspectives – which are provided mainly by the siblings offer glimpses into the minds of children learning to be adults. The commune-like setting that develops through their efforts and brings together just about every kid on the island – safe for a small group of rebels, who add the perfect amount of threat and tension to the children’s’ safe haven – is an unexpectedly peaceful and well-oiled machine.

Despite this neither Abby nor Jordan hold any falsehoods that the rest of the world is living quite as peacefully, and regardless how well things function on the island the effects of the space dust wreak their havoc on the older (at 12 and 13!) population, forcing the children to mature and learn to deal with and accept death much sooner than they should have to.

The books pacing for the most part is good, however there are some moments when the story seems to drag – specifically towards the end when the race is on for Jordan and Abby to procure the antibiotic created to stop the space germs from decimating the rest of the population.  Despite this fact the change of scenery –moving from the island to the main land- adds a new, more heightened threat as both Abby and Jordan fight against the effects of the space germs but also the pillaging gangs of children out to save themselves.

There are moments in the book where it’s hard to reconcile that these kids are meant to be 10, 12 and13-years-old – especially when it comes to the budding relationships that develop between some of them – it seems too mature. But then it could be rationalized that with a world in peril, they’ve been forced to grow up faster than is generally expected.  Also there are times when certain issues – particularly when Abby hits puberty – where the description is perhaps a little too forthright. It’s really dependent on the age group this book is geared towards.

Cramer’s Night of the Purple Moon is an entertaining read, the story is clever and fresh, with interesting characters who’s overall fighting spirit has you rooting for their survival and on the edge of your seat as you wait with baited breath to find out if they can survive in a world unlike any they’ve known before. If you’re someone who enjoys stories of survival and a world in peril this is a story you can definitely get on board with.

*This copy was provided to me by author Scott Cramer through LibraryThing.