Unbecoming by Jenny Downham

Shortlisted for the 2016 YA Book Prize

Official blurb:

Three women – three secrets – one heart-stopping story.

Katie, seventeen, in love with someone whose identity she can’t reveal.

Her mother, Caroline, uptight, worn out and about to find the past catching up with her.

Katie’s grandmother, Mary, back with the family after years of mysterious absence and ‘capable of anything’, despite suffering from Alzheimers.

As Katie cares for an elderly woman who brings chaos to her life, she finds herself drawn to her. Rules get broken as allegiances shift. Is Mary contagious? Is ‘badness’ genetic?

In confronting the past, Katie is forced to seize the present. As Mary slowly unravels and family secrets are revealed, Katie learns to live and finally dares to love.

Jenny Downham's unbecoming

Click to read the preview

Review by Katy Haye:

This was lovely … and yet it left me cold.

It’s a great depiction of family relationships and a nice enough story of learning who you are and how to accept that in the face of others’ disapproval (whether real or imagined).

But I found I really didn’t care much about any of the characters. It was written in the third person, and there were some strange head hops into other PoVs which felt really out of place. In this example, Katie, our main character, is at a party, looking at her friend’s boyfriend, and we get:

He looked down at her (the ‘her’ is Katie’s friend, not Katie herself), right down at her pretty face as she turned it up to him. He wanted to kiss her. He wanted to lean right down and kiss her and take her in his arms and feel her swoon against him. Just looking at him you knew that about him.

Er, no, actually, just looking at him you’re guessing/projecting what you think he wants. As an excerpt it might not sound strange, but it jolted me right out of the narrative.

And I’m afraid I got distracted by the dates. If she was born in 1954, Katie’s mother seemed too old for teenaged children. Now, at the end it turned out she was an older mother and had only had her children well into her forties, but nothing had been mentioned before (and that’s pretty unusual, surely?) so I was already set in my sceptical ways by then.

On the plus side, Simona was a fabulous character. I loved her, but I couldn’t see why she was attracted to Katie and them getting together felt a bit convenient (‘we’re the only two lesbians in town, so we’d better pair up’…). I’d have preferred Katie to end standing on her own two feet rather than leaning on someone else, although that was probably an arc to far for her character.

Overall, I’m afraid this only gets a 3 from me.

piranha stars turquoise 3

More to Read!

In the lead-up to the 2016 YA Book Prize, we’re reviewing all the books on the shortlist. Visit us every week for a new review.

Katy Haye writes fast-paced fantasy for YA readers. Check out The Last Gatekeeper and The Last Dreamseer.

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