If I had to pick the top ten worst books I've ever read, The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer would be one of them. It ranks up there with Halo, Hush, Hush, and Fallen in terms of plotting, romance, and characterization. Consequently, if you liked all three of those books chances are you're going to love this one.
In exploring the problems with this novel, I suppose I should start at the beginning: the cover. While it's beautiful and great from a marketing standpoint, it has absolutely nothing to do with the actual book.
As mentioned above, I found pretty much every aspect of the substance of this novel to be problematic, starting with the characters and their relationships. Noah Shaw is the perfect example of a wish fulfillment love interest. It's as though Michelle Hodgkins read Twilight and thought "I'll see your Edward Cullen and raise you Noah Shaw." Noah is incredibly good looking, wealthy, an animal rights advocate, drives a Prius (even though he can afford a much more luxurious car and shows no real concern for the environment), smokes without smelling like an ashtray, sleeps with every girl in school (except the bitchy blonde girl, of course), and he's English, although he doesn't use any British idioms or slang.
Despite being a lady killer, who uses girls for sex before discarding them like used tissue, he falls head-over-heels for Mara without so much as having a single conversation with her. Just because he had a vision about her before they meet does not explain why he would fall in love with her, only that he might take an interest in her.. He takes her on elaborate dates, defends her honor, reveals his vulnerable side, and insists on introducing her to his parents and meeting her family without getting to know her or building any trust between them. Nothing about their relationship felt organic or believable. It was instalove at its worst.
Noah s supposed to be a sexy playboy but I found him to be one of the most vile heros in YA literature. His treatment of women goes beyond mere promiscuity, which in and of itself isn't an issue for me. He is actually scornful of women and has a psychopathic lack of empathy for their feelings. He also has the maturity of an eleven year old, which is problematic because he's supposed to be seventeen. In one example, he brags to Mara that he knows the word "vagina" in several languages while they're on a date. This is not attractive behavior.
All of his flaws would be fine and dandy if he were the villain of the story, and if Mara was appropriately disgusted by his behavior. Unfortunately, the reader supposed to swoon over him, and Mara isn't all that horrified. While she does chastise him in the beginning, she secretly thinks how sexy he is, and she excuses his behavior every single time, which makes her a problematic character. Having quick comebacks doesn't make her strong when she behaves like a spineless jellyfish.
Additionally, I could not find any redeeming secondary characters. Jamie, Mara's best friend, is the token bi-sexual jewish black guy (by his own admission). He walks onto the scene wearing a shirt that says "I'm a cliché" and never becomes a fully realized human being. He is a character of convenience, only showing up when Mara needs something then disappears into oblivion like a good little token character. The sole purpose of Daniel, Mara's older brother, is to be a cheerleader for Noah and this makes him the worst older brother ever. He knows about Noah's reputation and yet he still insists he's a good guy and pressures his sister into dating him.
And of course, what YA romance novel would be complete without the slutty bitchy blond girl. Anna is one of the worst examples I can think of. Without having a single conversation with Mara, she proceeds to torment her for no reason. And like every other slutty bitchy blonde girl she is in love with the "hero" and is incredibly jealous of the heroine because she has his attention. There is nothing realistic or original about her.
As one would expect from a novel with shallow, nonsensical characters, the plot is equally dreadful. Do not be fooled by the fantastic premise. This is a romance with paranormal aspects thrown in as an afterthought. While the beginning of the story shows promise, the mystery is quickly set aside, making random appearances without any real progression until the very end. Even if the romance was taken out, I still found the mythology itself to be terribly convoluted. I felt as though Hodgkin threw in everything and the kitchen sink and when all was revealed nothing made any sense.
The technical aspects of the novel didn't fair much better than the rest. While the sentence structure and grammar were fine for the most part, the editing at times was very sloppy. For example, in one paragraph Mara says "I sat down beside Noah…" then not two paragraphs later without any indication that she had gotten up she says "Noah slid into a chair across from my brother and I sat next to him…" This was not the only error of its type, but it was definitely the most blatant.
Lastly, I cannot end this review without lamenting Hodgkin's complete lack of understanding of the field of psychiatry, both in terms of therapeutic technique and medication. Mara is prescribed an antipsychotic medication without practical discussion about the pros and cons, including the possible side effects, which are both common and potentially severe. While this might happen with an overworked psychiatrist working with low income individuals in a community clinic, who exclusively does medication management, this is not believable for a psychiatrist hired by an upper middle class family, who has time to do "therapy" with their clients. It is not standard practice and it's completely unethical. Additionally, there is no way the medication would be prescribed without a lengthy discussion with Mara's mother.
Further, once Mara begins taking the medication, she has no side effects, which does not happen with antipsychotics. They are very powerful drugs, which almost always have some side effects, and they can be pretty nasty, otherwise medication compliance would be higher. Also, Mara carelessly forgets to take her medication on several occasions without any consequences. Discontinuing or missing doses of these sorts of medications can be very dangerous. Clearly, Hodgkin did not do any research before writing about them. For a realistic presentation of psychiatry in YA literature, check out Ultraviolet by R.J. Anderson, who incidentally did extensive research on the subject.
My advice: Skip this book.