Mara Dyer doesn’t think life can get any stranger than waking up in a hospital with no memory of how she got there.
She believes there must be more to the accident she can’t remember that killed her friends and left her mysteriously unharmed.
She doesn’t believe that after everything she’s been through, she can fall in love.
After Mara survives the traumatizing accident at the old asylum, it makes sense that she has issues. She lost her best friend, her boyfriend, and her boyfriend’s sister, and as if that weren’t enough to cope with, her family moves to a new state in order to give her a fresh start. But that fresh start is quickly filled with hallucinations—or are they premonitions?—and then corpses, and the boundary between reality and nightmare is wavering. At school, there’s Noah, a devastatingly handsome charmer who seems determined to help Mara piece together what’s real, what’s imagined—and what’s very, very dangerous.
This fast-paced psychological—or is it paranormal?—thriller will leave you breathless for its sequel, The Evolution of Mara Dyer.
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Laurelton, Rhode Island
THE ORNATE SCRIPT ON THE BOARD TWISTED in the candlelight, making the letters and numbers dance in my head. They were jumbled and indistinct, like alphabet soup. When Claire pushed the heart-shaped piece into my hand, I startled. I wasn’t normally so twitchy, and hoped Rachel wouldn’t notice. The Ouija board was her favorite present that night, and Claire gave it to her. I got her a bracelet. She wasn’t wearing it.
Kneeling on the carpet, I passed the piece to Rachel. Claire shook her head, oozing disdain. Rachel put down the piece.
“It’s just a game, Mara.” She smiled, her teeth looking even whiter in the dim light. Rachel and I had been best friends since preschool, and where she was dark and wild, I was pale and cautious. But less so when we were together. She made me feel bold. Usually.
“I don’t have anything to ask dead people,” I said to her. And at sixteen, we’re too old for this, I didn’t say.
“Ask whether Jude will ever like you back.”
Claire’s voice was innocent, but I knew better. My cheeks flamed, but I stifled the urge to snap at her and laughed it off. “Can I ask it for a car? Is this like a dead Santa scenario?”
“Actually, since it’s my birthday, I’m going first.” Rachel put her fingers on the piece. Claire and I followed her.
“Oh! Rachel, ask it how you’re going to die.”
Rachel squealed her assent, and I shot a dark look at Claire. Since moving here six months ago, she’d latched onto my best friend like a starving leech. Her twin missions in life were now to make me feel like the third wheel, and to torture me for my crush on her brother, Jude. I was equally sick of both.
“Remember not to push,” Claire ordered me.
“Got it, thanks. Anything else?”
But Rachel interrupted us before we could descend into bickering. “How am I going to die?”
The three of us watched the board. My calves prickled from kneeling on Rachel’s carpet for so long, and the backs of my knees felt clammy. Nothing happened.
Then something did. We looked at each other as the piece moved under our hands. It semi-circled the board, sailing past A through K, and crept past L.
It settled on M.
“Murder?” Claire’s voice was soaked with excitement. She was so sketchy. What did Rachel see in her?
The piece glided in the wrong direction. Away from U and R.
Landing on A.
Rachel looked confused. “Matches?”
“Mauling?” Claire asked. “Maybe you start a forest fire and get eaten by Smokey the Bear?” Rachel laughed, briefly dissolving the panic that had slithered into my stomach. When we first sat down to play, I had to resist the urge to roll my eyes at Claire’s melodramatics. Now, not so much.
The piece zigzagged across the board, cutting her laughter short.
We were silent. Our eyes didn’t leave the board as the piece jerked back to the beginning.
We waited for the piece to point out the next letter, but it remained still. After three minutes, Rachel and Claire withdrew their hands. I felt them watching me.
“It wants you to ask something,” Rachel said softly.
“If by ‘it’ you mean Claire, I’m sure that’s true.” I stood up, shaking and nauseous. I was done.
“I didn’t push it,” Claire said, wide-eyed as she looked at Rachel, then at me.
“Pinky swear?” I asked, with sarcasm.
“Why not,” Claire answered, with malice. She stood and walked closer to me. Too close. Her green eyes were dangerous. “I didn’t push it,” she said again. “It wants you to play.”
Rachel grabbed my hand and pulled herself up off the floor. She looked straight at Claire. “I believe you,” she said, “but let’s do something else?”
“Like what?” Claire’s voice was flat, and I stared right back at her, unflinching. Here we go.
“We can watch The Blair Witch Project.” Claire’s favorite, naturally. “How about it?” Rachel’s voice was tentative, but firm.
I tore my eyes away from Claire’s and nodded, managing a smile. Claire did the same. Rachel relaxed, but I didn’t. For her sake, though, I tried to swallow my anger and unease as we settled in to watch the movie. Rachel popped in the DVD and blew out the candles.
Six months later, they were both dead.
© 2011 Michelle Hodkin
Reading Group Guide
A Reading Group Guide to The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer By Michelle Hodkin Discussion Questions 1. Although she is the narrator, we get to know Mara Dyer as a character rather gradually in The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer. What were your first impressions of Mara? How did your opinion of her change from the beginning of the book to the end? Can she be considered an "unreliable" narrator? Explain. 2. What do you know about post-traumatic stress disorder? Do you think Mara is experiencing conditions associated with this disorder, and how so? Perhaps it's something else? Explain using specific examples from the book. 3. Noah Shaw has a bad reputation around school, though Mara sees a different side to him. Why do you think Noah cultivates this reputation? Do you think he is right not to correct other people's assumptions? 4. What are the qualities of Noah that attracted Mara? Did Mara fall in love with Noah at first sight, or did it happen over time? Was there a particular turning point that seemed to signify a shift in their relationship? Do you believe in love at first sight? 5. Mara asks Noah, “Are you afraid of anything?” and Noah replies, “I’m afraid of forgeries.” What does he mean? What does his response say about him? What are your own fears? 6. Often we’re faced with discrepancies between reality and illusion in The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer. It isn’t always easy for us, as readers, to determine what was real or not. What clues did you look for—or observe, in retrospect—that helped you determine what was really happening in Mara’s life? Do you think the author deliberately intended for there to be a discrepancy? Is this why Mara is an unreliable narrator? What does this accomplish? 7. What does “real” mean to Noah? Consider the following excerpts: • Noah: “I’m afraid of forgeries.” • Noah: “No matter what, I’m an imposter. An actor in my own life.” • Mara, talking about Noah: “And that made him real.” • Noah, to Mara: “You made me real.” What makes a person “real” to you? 8. Mara thought Noah's surprise tour of the art exhibit was a perfect date. Describe the ingredients of your perfect dream date, and the significance of each detail. 9. What happened at the conclusion of The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer? Explain. Use evidence from the text to support your theories. 10. Now, looking back at the very beginning, how would you explain Mara’s situation when the story first opened? What did you learn, later on, that helped make sense of the story’s initial disclaimer? Why do you think Michelle Hodkin chose to introduce The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer in this manner? 11. Define “unbecoming,” as it relates to Mara Dyer. Guide written by Catharine Sotzing, an elementary school teacher at the Dalton School, New York City. This guide has been provided by Simon & Schuster for classroom, library, and reading group use. It may be reproduced in its entirety or excerpted for these purposes.