BOOK REVIEW | Unbecoming by Jenny Downham8th October 2015
Seventeen-year-old Katie is in a state of turmoil.
Her usually orderly life of intensive studying, planning for university and helping her uptight recently divorced mother look after her brother with learning difficulties is thrown into chaos. The arrival of her disreputable grandmother, who she didn’t know existed, sets a whole chain of strange events in motion. Mary is having difficulties of her own. She’s suffering from Alzheimer’s disease and is trying hard to remember just who she is and what happened in the past. To complicate matters further, Katie is also trying to work out just who she is as she and what her sexuality is and face up to the cruelty and prejudice of her contemporaries.
There’s been a recent fashion for well written teenage and young adult books having a crossover appeal for all ages. This book is definitely a fine example of how powerful this genre can be and why books shouldn’t be pigeonholed. Award winning young adult fiction writer Jenny Downham has pulled off an astonishing feat with this beautifully written and moving book. The plot is compelling and the mystery of what happened to Mary, along with the tension of what is happening to Katie and her family drives the story forward. On paper it sounds gloomy and grim: a woman unravelling through advanced dementia and a tortured teenager trying to find out who she is. It’s none of these things. Nor is it just an issue-focused book. This is a moving and funny novel that sensitively examines difficult subjects as well as being an incredibly entertaining and good read. There’s also plenty of humour to be found in the situations that Katie finds herself in.
Downham has a natural ear for dialogue and a talent for weaving a good tale. This book comes highly recommended and will pass the time easily on a long autumnal evening.
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