Book Review: ‘The Evolution of Mara Dyer’ by Michelle Hodkin

Image Credit: Michelle Hodkin

The Evolution of Mara Dyer is the sequel to The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer. This review will likely contain spoilers for the first book – consider yourselves warned!

I’m not sure what exactly I was expecting when I read The Unbecoming last year, but it was one of those situations where a book just really caught my attention and had me totally wrapped up in it. I was confused, I was yelling and exclaiming, I had no idea what was going on…and for some strange reason, I loved it. I’ve read it 3 times since. Needless to say, I have been really looking forward to (hopefully) getting some answers in The Evolution.

To give a little background, the main character in these books (Mara Dyer, obviously) has been suffering some mental issues since she and three of her friends were involved in an accident at an abandoned insane asylum in her old hometown. The asylum collapsed, and all of her friends (including her boyfriend) were killed. She was totally fine, physically, but suffered from extreme Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder after the incident. Understandably.

We catch up with Mara shortly after the events in the climax of The Unbecoming. After seeing her supposedly dead ex-boyfriend, Jude, at the police station, she had an episode that landed her in a mental hospital. Apparently during her fit she told the police that Jude was alive and admitted she was responsible for the deaths of her friends at the asylum. While these things are technically true, Mara’s history of psychological distress didn’t help her provide a convincing argument. Meanwhile Jude is still out there, making sure Mara knows he’s watching her.

The Evolution focuses on Mara’s quest to figure out what the heck is going on with her, basically. She knows she has some strange abilities, but she doesn’t understand exactly what they are or why she has them. She knows that Jude is alive, but she doesn’t know how it’s possible or why he seems to be stalking her. She knows that Noah, her beautiful British boyfriend (we are reminded of these attributes constantly, though I’m not necessarily complaining), also has some strange abilities, but she has no idea how they are connected to each other.  And what’s up with those weird dreams about being in India? There are a lot of questions, no easy way to get answers, and a lot of obstacles in the way. Mara’s family doesn’t trust her to be on her own. No one besides Noah believes much of what she says. She’s in danger, but she doesn’t really have a way to prove it. Things are just a big ol’ mess.

One of the interesting things about The Unbecoming was that Mara’s PTSD made her an incredibly unreliable narrator. Because she struggled to understand what was real and what was not, so did the reader. Interestingly, Mara actually seems to have a little better grasp on reality in The Evolution. She begins to trust herself more and is better able to distinguish reality from dreams or hallucinations. Sure, the girl still has some issues, but you get the feeling they aren’t necessarily things Mara can control. What we don’t know is why.

Part of the appeal of this series is the mystery and all the creepy elements that play into it. Michelle Hodkin is a really ambient writer, and every chapter of The Evolution conveys a general feeling of eeriness, regardless of subject matter. The mystery runs pretty deep, so you get a lot of questions but not necessarily a lot of answers. What I appreciated about this book was the balance – some things that were unclear in the first book become much clearer here. There are still plenty of bizarre things going on to keep you guessing, but you get just enough resolution to keep you invested in the story…

…Very invested in the story. I don’t usually talk to my books, but the Mara Dyer series has been an exception.  “What is going on!?,” “O.M.G.,” “You’ve gotta be kidding me,” and “How is that a thing?!” are common responses at the end of pretty much every chapter. And “page-turner” doesn’t even begin to do it justice. This is the rare type of book where I could easily read it in one sitting but don’t want it to end…so I have to force myself to try to spread it out over a day or two.  And, like the first book in the series, this book really sticks with you. I found myself thinking about it when I wasn’t reading it, pondering what was going on or even just revisiting particular scenes that especially stood out.

Do I have anything to complain about? Not really. Everything that is confusing or frustrating about this book is confusing and frustrating because it should be and it needs to be. Aside from the addictive writing style and ambiance, there’s also realistic character development, a plot that moves forward believably despite dealing with some pretty crazy concepts, well-executed dialogue and moments of fantastic wit.

If I had to pick one little tiny thing to nitpick about, it would be something I hinted at earlier. We get it: Noah is the hottest guy on the planet. While I can appreciate Mara’s astonishment that he’s giving her the time of day, I could have stood for, like, 10% fewer references to his perfection. I’m not suggesting a substantial cutback here, just maybe cutting out one of the several references to his “sliver of stomach below his shirt” and maybe two of the times “beautiful” was used to describe him. Trust me, that still leaves plenty. I suppose the actual teenagers reading these books eat that stuff up, but at a certain point it makes me feel a little lecherous. (Much like my love of One Direction, but that’s another story).

So, now that I’ve gone on and on about how awesome this book is, I think it’s pretty clear that I loved it. I will be waiting impatiently for the final book in the series to come out and answer all these crazy questions.  It seems like these books tend to illicit a strong reaction – people who like this series really love it and people who dislike this series really hate it. But since I really love it, all I can do is highly recommend it to anyone who will listen.

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