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Mary Todd has always had a spark of life that led her on wild adventures and she was always ending up in new places with new people. Even as she grew older she retained a captivating unpredictability. However, what might’ve been most unpredictable to fearless, invincible Mary was when her memory began deteriorating. Mary has maintained somewhat of an independent life with her husband for years, but her memory has continued to fade. When Mary’s husband unexpectedly dies, she’s left in the care of the most surprisingly foreign people of all --- her daughter’s family.
Caroline, Mary’s biological daughter, feels anything but warmth toward the spontaneous and charismatic woman who abandoned her years ago. It’s already enough that she is parenting two teenagers by herself, while working a full-time job to support her family. What she needs is for her son, Chris, to behave and for her daughter, Katie, to be the good girl she knows. With her estranged mother’s sudden appearance, her children’s lives are turned upside down alongside hers, and her past is brought to the forefront in ways she never planned.

"The story is enthralling, and although some parts are a bit slower than others, as the characters develop, you can’t help but root for each of the women to have her happy ending."

Teenage Katie is busy dying of mortification from something that happened a few days ago when Mary materializes, and what better way to take her mind off of her humiliation than to get to know this mysterious grandmother she’s never met? As Mary and Katie grow closer, Katie becomes increasingly influenced by Mary’s bravery in being herself. Katie resolves to find some courage of her own and uncover the truth of Mary and Caroline’s past --- figuring out her own present in the process.
UNBECOMING follows Mary, Caroline, and Katie throughout different periods of their lives, as told from the different perspectives of each woman. This style of narration definitely provides insight into every character’s actions and feelings, and it allows for a slow reveal of important past events, jumping from time periods in order to leave you wanting more.
The characters are generally quite likeable, and Mary and Katie’s connection is touching, as are the gritty complexities of the other relationships within the novel. Because the characters in the book are so real and flawed, it is easy to get frustrated with some of their actions or reactions, but I think this adds another level of depth.
The novel tackles a lot of tough subjects like coping with degenerative disease, family tensions, and learning to accept and embrace your own identity, even if it’s tough. The story is enthralling, and although some parts are a bit slower than others, as the characters develop, you can’t help but root for each of the women to have her happy ending. Within the plot there are a lot of important morals and messages that are conveyed subtly but with expertise. There are ups and downs, and at parts the novel is quite sad, but that being said, this is a story about family and living bravely, and considering this, it’s expected that there will be highs and lows just as there are in real life.
For sisters, mothers and grandmothers especially, UNBECOMING is a book that is sure to tug at the heartstrings.

Reviewed by Laura T., Teen Board Member on March 2, 2016

by Jenny Downham

  • Publication Date: June 27, 2017
  • Genres: Fiction, Young Adult 14+
  • Paperback: 384 pages
  • Publisher: David Fickling Books
  • ISBN-10: 1338160729
  • ISBN-13: 9781338160727