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Have the Lambs Stopped Screaming, Erin?

A review of Michelle Hodkin's The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer, which starts off with a promising premise, but gets derailed by trying to be a kissing book.

Have the Lambs Stopped Screaming, Erin?

BOOK REPORT for The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer (Mara Dyer Book 1) by Michelle Hodkin

Cover Story: Not As Disgusting As Previously Advertised
BFF Charm: Eh?
Swoonworthy Scale: -4
Talky Talky: Straight Up With a Twist
Bonus Factors: Keyser Soze, Just Desserts
Relationship Status: The YA Version of Hannibal

Cover Story: Not As Disgusting As Previously Advertised

We debuted Munchkinpiece Theatre with a review of this book, mostly because it was sitting at the top of the box of BEA books I had to ship home to myself, and my kid enjoys opening any mail that she thinks might possibly contain a present for her. She proclaimed the cover disgusting, but I disagree.

I actually super like this cover. I know, I know. Floating, headless bodies. But at least there's a REASON they're floating and headless (it's a pool! they're shot from below! They have heads, we just can't see them)! Plus, I FUCKING LOVE THAT DRESS GIVE IT TO ME.

The Deal:

Mara Dyer (not her real name) woke up in a hospital with no memory of the accident that claimed the lives of her best friend and her boyfriend. Crippled with PTSD, she is finding it difficult to cope with being the only survivor - particularly when her parents move her down to Florida to make a "fresh start."

Her fresh start is anything but, however, as the walls start closing in around Mara and the body count starts rising. Is Mara crazy? Being haunted? Something else altogether?

I don't know. Let's drop that interesting premise and just spend 250 pages talking about a boy instead.

BFF Charm: Eh?

Don't get me wrong; at the start of this book, I was pretty sure that I was going to hand Mara Dyer a platinum, jewel-encrusted BFF charm and ask her to be my date to the Senior Prom. Even though she confesses on page one that she's on trial for murder. Actually, ESPECIALLY because of that, since, HELLO, how many chances do you have of befriending a murderer unless you are one of those sad Prison Wives-type people?

And even though it LEGIT spooked me out, I really, really loved the scenes in which Mara's PTSD came out to play, because they were creepy and spooky and well-drawn and I can only imagine the terror of being trapped in a mind that seems hellbent on destroying you.

BUT. About as soon as Noah showed up, I could tell that I wasn't going to want to give Mara my BFF charm anymore. In fact, I wanted to steal it back, clutch it to my chest, and stick my tongue out at her like I was Gollum and she was fucking with My Preciouzzz. But that might make Mara angry . . . and I really don't want to be around her when she's angry.

Swoonworthy Scale: -4

Listen, Noah Shaw, you aren't fooling me with your British accent and rogue exterior. You are a dick, dude. A dick. A douche. A twatwaffle. I hate you.

So. Check it. Noah's the bad boy at Mara's new school, and he enjoys secksing up every lady in sight. And actually if there is one thing that DIDN'T bother me about Noah, it's that, cause, look guys. We are only young and hot and carefree for a relatively short time in our long lives, and I firmly feel that you should use this time to have AS MUCH SEX AS POSSIBLE. Seriously. Seriously. I realize that sex is not like pennies in a piggy bank; i.e. you can't have a lot of it when you're a kid to save up for a rainy day, but still. Still. Are you young and vibrant and carefree and do your bosoms reside somewhere north of your belly button? THEN YOU SHOULD BE FUCKING SOMETHING RIGHT NOW. Because one day you will get old, dear reader, and your joints will ache and you'll have to be on some sort of medicine for your bad ticker that makes orgasms impossible or you won't be able to put your legs behind your head anymore or WHATEVER, something will happen; you will become too old for sexytimes, and when that day comes the only thing that will comfort you is the knowledge that you spent years 16 through 60 having AS MUCH SEX AS HUMANLY POSSIBLE.

Anyway. I digress. No, what makes Noah Shaw a jerkface of the highest order is not his propensity to stick his dick in anything that moves, but rather his cheerful disrespect for said recipients of his, uh, raison d'etre. PLUS he is a pushy, stalkery jerk once he decides that Mara should be next on his bone pile, always following her around and showing up univited and forcinghis way into her life and I'm expected to swoon? I don't think so.

And, of course, Mara's totally into it, cause, like, Noah is just so DEEP and MISUNDERSTOOD and BRITISH. I need more than that, people! Can he also make a good cup of tea while being DEEP AND MISUNDERSTOOD? Is he going to mispronounce the words salsa, pico de gallo, and guacamole, much to the delight of my family members? No? Well then he can fuck right off.

I mean, I just. I know I'm maybe showing more anger than is really warranted, but if you guys haven't read this book yet, allow me to explain: the romance is like SEVENTY PERCENT of the last half of the book. AND IT SUCKS. Noah sucks, Mara sucks when she's around Noah, and this book sucks everytime it spends time on the two of them. NOT EVERY BOOK NEEDS TO HAVE A ROMANCE. If the book isn't a romance book, and having a romance isn't going to improve anything or anyone in the book, WHY HAVE IT?

Talky Talk: Straight Up With a Twist

Hodkin's style is pretty stark and bare - she doesn't spend a lot of time on flowery prose or Dawson's Creek-esque dialogue. Quite the contrary, I found some of the dialogue almost cringe-worthy in its directness, though one could argue it was realistic. Where the writing really does shine is in the descriptions of Mara's PTSD episodes. They are legitimately creepy, spooky, and heart-racing, and I could feel the walls crumbling down along with Mara.

And the real shame of this book is that, folks. It's not that Hodkins isn't talented. She is. It's not that she can't write an interesting, layered, complex story. She did. If she'd just stuck to that, this book report would be so glowing you could get a suntan off of it. Indeed, for the first 100 pages of this book, I was FREAKING OUT about how awesome it was. And then it just . . . fell flat. Too much (stupid, lame, and unnecessary) romance, the introduction of a paranormal element that frankly comes right out of left field, and a complete abandonment of the creepy premise are what made me dislike this book as much as I did. Weirdly,I hope like hell that this was actually all Hodkin's writing and that we haven't lost another amazing book to an editor's intrusive, money-grabbing hands, but much like the number of licks it takes to get to the center of a Tootsie Roll pop, the world may never know.

Bonus Factor: Keyser Soze

I do love an unreliable narrator; it's one of my favorite storytelling devices. Some people feel cheated when they get to the end of a book or movie and realize that everything they thought they knew was wrong. Not me! I love being proven wrong, mostly because hardly anyone can ever do it! Cause I'm just so smart and awesome all the time!

But, seriously. I did love that I was never quite sure what was real and what wasn't; what was actually happening external to Mara and what was all in her head. If only it hadn't devolved into paranormal bullshit.

Bonus Factor: Just Desserts

This book is kind of hard to review without mentioning specific spoilers, but I'm trying to do my best. There's a scene in the book that is OVER THE TOP RIDICULOUS and it involves CROCODILES even though there are only like 2000 American Crocodiles in the US so I'm not sure why they felt like all converging onto this one scene in the book and whatever, I'm not going to get into it because it is SERIOUSLY CRAZY. BUT! The ridiculousness of said crocodiles does not negate the fact that they mete out excellent, Dexter-style justice on a total asshat jerkface.

Casting Call:

In times of trouble, there is only one actress I look to to provide spacy crazy.

Rooney Mara as Mara

Bonus! Name association!

Relationship Status: The YA Version of Hannibal

Check it. I'm about to DRAW SOME PARALLELS, bishes. So, you know the book Silence of the Lambs, right? Of course you do. It's an amazing book. It's an amazing movie. Jodie Foster's portrayal of Clarice Starling in Silence of the Lambs inspired the character of Dana Scully on The X-Files. Both characters have vaguely made me question my commitment to heterosexuality a time or two. To this day I find awful 90s grey business suits with shoulder pads sort of hot.

I really like the book/movie, is what I'm saying. But! Did you ever read the book Hannibal, Thomas Harris's sort-of-sequel to Silence of the Lambs? No? You didn't? You, in fact, cut a wide swath around it because you heard how awful it was? Well, that's good for you, but since I am physically incapable of avoiding sequels, I did read it. So please allow me to spend this time spoiling you as to what happens.

So! In Hannibal, the book, Clarice Starling has been disgraced at the FBI, due to a drug raid that went wrong. Although why they had Clarice doing pissant drug raids when she tracks awesome SKIN WEARING MURDERERS is beyond me. Anyway. MEANWHILE, Hannibal Lecter is off strolling the streets of Italy and torturing the local cops there. He gets wind of Clarice's disgrace and contacts her and the Feebs decide they'll use Starling as a means of drawing out Hannibal. ALSO MEANWHILE there is this former patient/victim of Hannibal's who is a total child-molesting pervert who deserved to have his face eaten off by his therapist, IF YOU ASK ME, and he's hellbent on revenge. And the revenge, for some reason, involves wild pigs.

And this is where this analogy becomes important, kids. Because until the scene with the wild pigs, I REALLY LIKED THIS BOOK. I mean, it was UNSANE and totally melodramatic and Mason Verger (the guy seeking revenge on Hannibal) was AWFUL and GROSS and HAD NO FACE and there was also this whole lesbian sister/Melissa Etheridge plot line but WHATEVER. It was awesome. Until the scene with the pigs.

Because, dear reader, in the scene with the pigs, Hannibal Lecter saves Clarice Starling and carries her out of the barn, leaving the bloodshed and lesbians and faceless child molestors to their own devices. And if the screen had faded to black, if the next page had been Thomas Harris's "artistic" author photo anda blurb, I would have closed that book with satisfaction, never truly knowing if Clarice ended up being Hannibal's next meal, or he let her go, or she escaped, or she caught him . . . the world would have been my oyster.

INSTEAD what happened is that I spent another 100 pages reading about Clarice becoming a cannibal and jetting off to Buenos Aires with Hannibal and letting him lick champagne off her tits. YES. YES. MY CLARICE STARLING, the badass FBI agent-in-charge, the brilliant and decisive and shattered woman with ovaries of steel RUNS AWAY TO SOUTH AMERICA AND FUCKS HER CANNIBALISTIC FUGITIVE LOVER.

I tell you all of this, dear reader, not just because I've been sitting on this emotional pain for more than a decade, but because I can't think of a better book comparison to draw. Mara Dyer would have been one of my favorite books of 2011 . . . if only it could have stopped after the first two hundred pages.

FTC Full Disclosure: I received this book from BEA. I received neither money nor cocktails for this review (damnit!). The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer will be available in stores on September 27, 2011.

But! Want to make up your own mind about this book? We're giving away a copy! Comment below (make sure to subscribe to comments!) to enter the drawing - I'll choose a winner next week.

Erin Callahan's photo About the Author: Erin is loud, foul-mouthed, an unrepentant lover of trashy movies and believes that champagne should be an every day drink. When she isn't drowning in a sea of engineers for whom Dilbert is still uproariously funny, she's writing about books, tv, the cult of VC Andrews and more.
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