Mara Dyer 101: Getting to Know Michelle Hodkin’s Hit Trilogy

Abyss of the Disheartened Series (Image Credit: Heather Landis)

Interested in reading Michelle Hodkin’s Mara Dyer book series but want to know what you’re getting yourself into? Keep reading for the spoiler-free scoop on the first book in the series, The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer.

Who is Mara Dyer?

My name is not Mara Dyer, but my lawyer told me I had to choose something. A pseudonym. A nom de plume, for all of us studying for the SATs.

From the first page of the book we learn that our narrator is using the name Mara Dyer, but it’s not her real name. Why she’s using a pseudonym is just the first of the book’s many mysteries. While we don’t know Mara’s real name or why she’s changed it, we do learn quickly that Mara is a very special brand of unreliable narrator. After a disturbing incident at an abandoned old asylum kills several of her friends but leaves her with barely a bruise, Mara develops post-traumatic stress disorder. She has haunting hallucinations and zones out for extended periods of time. She has trouble knowing what things are actually happening in her life and what things are hallucinations. As a reader, you’re just as clueless as Mara, which is both infuriatingly frustrating and awesomely intriguing once all the mysteries start piling up.

The Reader’s Mantra: “What in the world is going on?!”

Because Jude was dead. Like Claire. And Rachel. Which meant that I’d had three hallucinations in less than three hours. Which wasn’t good.

It’s hard to go into too much detail about the mysteries of Mara’s life without spoilers, but I’ll give you some hints. First, there’s a distinct possibility that Mara may have some unique abilities. It’s no coincidence she was the only one of her friends to escape the asylum alive. There’s also a chance that some of the things that are happening to Mara in hallucinations might actually be real. (Almost) everyone thinks Mara is psychologically disturbed, but maybe that’s not the whole story.

And what does all of this have to do with the bigger picture? Quite honestly, you probably won’t find that out in The Unbecoming. Weird stuff happens and many questions are asked, but very few are answered, at least not completely. Sometimes you’re not sure whether you’re reading a mystery, paranormal, a horror story, a romance, or science fiction. I can almost guarantee you will find yourself yelling at this book on a regular basis simply because so much bizarre stuff is going on and you will desperately want to be able to put the pieces together, but there just isn’t enough information – yet.

The Objectification of Noah Shaw

What could I say? “Noah, despite you being an asshole, or maybe because of it, I’d like to rip off your clothes and have your babies.”

Mara is mostly a loner, but she has a few important allies, including a disturbingly perfect British schoolmate named Noah. Noah is pretty much the only person who doesn’t think Mara has gone off the deep end, and he helps her stay grounded in reality. He’s also crucial in Mara’s quest to understand what, exactly, is happening to her. Mara has a tendency to describe Noah’s physical perfection and intelligence in great detail, which I imagine some readers will greatly appreciate. Mara and Noah have a unique connection, but their relationship is established gradually throughout the book – no dreaded instalove!

Creepy With a Side of Funny

“Did I just see you litter?’
‘I’m driving a hybrid. It cancels out.”

Most of The Unbecoming has a consistently creepy vibe. You will feel Mara’s paranoia and confusion and sense that there are bigger things happening – ominous things. Despite the general eeriness, the book is full of witty dialogue and characters with a sense of humor. Mara may be toeing the edge of sanity, but that doesn’t stop her from whipping out smart comebacks. It’s clear that Mara is a strong, intelligent girl – which makes it all the more interesting to see how she is affected by her PTSD and all the other absurd things that are happening to her.

Opening the Hatch

“I was warned about you, you know.”
And with that half-smile that wrecked me, Noah said, “But you’re here anyway.”

In many ways, the Mara Dyer books remind me of Lost. Readers seem to have a very strong reaction after reading The Unbecoming – those who love it really love it, but those who don’t get it really don’t get it. You won’t always know how everything fits together, and there are ample opportunities to come up with your own theories or ideas on what’s happening to Mara. It’s important to approach this book with the understanding that it is the first in a series – your questions will not all be answered. New revelations and character development in future books can (and will) change your perception of certain things. If you can keep this in mind and go along for the ride, I think you’ll find The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer to be a deliciously creepy and ambient mystery.

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