The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer

Vampires, werewolves, and other members of the mainstream supernatural club do not appear in this debut novel. Yet Mara Dyer, a “B student with a body count,” is plagued by vaguely unbranded mysterious—and murderous—events. Psychosis, ESP, or PTSD? Hard to say.
Mara’s troubles begin after she wakes up in the hospital, the only survivor of an accident at an abandoned New England lunatic asylum that killed her two best friends and her then-boyfriend. Her parents move the family to South Florida for a fresh start. Our romantic hero, when he appears, wears “Chucks with holes worn through, no laces,” likes dogs, hates yellow, and stands out for his English accent and notable lack of an orange complexion. His name is Noah, and alas, according to the school gossip, the man is a whore. Are the tales true, or is their teller—a suitably fake-baked blond named Anna who dresses like “an accountant’s mid-life crisis” and has a novel evil sidekick, Aidan, a gay, meathead bully—just jealous? As Noah charms her mother with lilies, her older brother with discourse on the “Kafka-Nietzsche nexus and the parodic sonnets of Don Quixote,” and Mara herself with Jeff Buckley, Camus, Cuban food, and a costly yet thoughtful birthday exorcism, the two engage in the kind of Hepburn-Tracy-esque banter that makes their mutual intentions clear.

The last-page cliffhanger leaves the nature of Mara’s troubles unresolved and a sequel all but guaranteed. While the dead bodies, when they appear, can sometimes feel like an awkward intrusion into an otherwise witty and cosmopolitan novel, many background narratives—Mara’s matrilineal connection to India; an Animal Liberation Front subplot, her “token black Jewish bi friend”—promise some interesting real-world possibilities.