“Didn’t you always tell me it took courage for people to be themselves?”
– Jenny Downham, Unbecoming
Katie only meets her Grandmother Mary for the first time when she is seventeen and by that point Mary is almost completely lost to dementia. And as her only living relatives, Katie’s small broken family are forced to care for her. Katie can see something in her — a spark that she’s missing in her own life — but her mother Caroline — Mary’s own daughter — hates her. But why?
As time goes on snippets of Mary’s life are revealed to Katie during her brief moments of lucidity and a long kept family secret is at last revealed.
Unbecoming celebrates life in a way no other book has done before. The difficulties of dealing with dementia are expertly placed alongside teenage angst and single motherhood and though many issues are tackled this is not an issue book, it is a book to love.
When I requested a copy of Jenny Downham’s new book Unbecoming, I prepared myself for an emotional thrashing! Her award winning young adult title Before I Die (which has been in my TBR pile for far too long) is known for tugging on the heartstrings of its readers!
Katie is a seventeen-year-old girl living an ordered and controlled life with her brother and an overbearing mother who believes that history (and secrets) deserve to stay in the past. The only problem is, secrets have a way of coming to light, even when you really don’t want them too! When Mary is suddenly dropped into their lives, their carefully constructed order falls apart. Katie is instantly drawn to her long-lost grandmother and cannot understand why her mother hates her so much. As Mary’s mind succumbs to dementia, she appears determined to remember a vital moment from their past that will change their lives forever.
I was genuinely surprised at how much I loved this book. Sometimes it is hard to get into a book when you know it is going to be emotional and despite the tears shed, this book is more about hope than anything else. It is a story of three generations of women, a dysfunctional family and a young girl struggling with her sexuality. Katie is a gorgeous character and my favourite part of the book was the interaction between Katie and Mary. The two characters are like mirror images, each locked within themselves in their own way. The more Katie learns about her grandmother, the more she learns about herself.
“Who will I be when you forget me? She whispered. Mary drowsily tapped her hand. “You will be you.”
Katie is brave even though she doesn’t know it. She is burdened with her mother’s distain for life and the pressure of getting life ‘right’. She studies hard, helps out at home and behaves just how her mother expects her too. With Mary’s encouragement, Katie finds it within herself to be unbecoming and finally use her own voice. It is a story that could have been overly cliché however Downham manages to refrain from making it so. Her exploration of family, mental illness and sexuality is realistic (and sad) and I think she captures the pressure of living up to expectations perfectly. Unbecoming is a wonderful read!
AUTHOR: Jenny Downham
PUBLISHER: Scholastic Australia
PUB DATE: October 2015
Thank you to Scholastic for sending me a reading copy in exchange for an honest review!