The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer, the Evolution of Mara Dyer, and the Retribution of Mara Dyer are written by Michelle Hodkin and published in 2011, 2012, and 2014 respectively. I read Unbecoming on November 27, Evolution on November 28, and Retribution on November 29-30, 2016.
I had Unbecoming and Evolution, and halfway through Evolution I bought Retribution and even paid for one-day shipping. I have literally never done that before in my life. I could not wait for the resolution to this trilogy. This post is a wee bit spoilery but only for the first book.
This post should potentially be called “We Need to Talk About Noah Shaw” but it could also be called “Mara Dyer: Badass Heroine Extraordinare” because Noah is a character begging to be quoted for all the romantic shit he says that makes your goddamn toes curl, and Mara is so badass that I’m both terrified and kind of want to join her army. I’d follow Mara into battle, no question.
I also want to note that despite the fact I have been totally sunk by Noah Shaw, my fictional boyfriend remains Richard Campbell Gansey III.
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.
The course of the trilogy is discovering the truth – not just about Mara, or Noah, their personal histories – but about something happening on a global, even historical level. When I finished the trilogy I scoured Michelle Hodkin’s website for her perspective on the trilogy and was so happy to see that she’s writing more (the Shaw Confessions – due sometime in 2017), and described the original trilogy as “an origin story.” That’s how this feels – what Mara experiences is the start of something, and she’s not alone. I cannot wait to read about more Carriers, and see how the world changes because of Mara and Noah.
Reasons they are awesome:
- You don’t have to suspend your disbelief that much to buy into the science.
- You can’t decide if you have a bigger crush on Mara or Noah.
- But, just to put it out there: Noah. F***ing. Shaw.
- Representation! Diversity!
- Did I mention Noah Shaw?
The science in the Mara Dyer books is really cool, even if you have only a passing interest in genetics and mutation, and especially if you’ve ever thought about the possibility of genetic memory. It doesn’t go so far down the sci-fi road that what’s happening seems impossible. The fact that it’s so close to the realm of possibility makes it exciting. The fact that the big picture is revealed and doesn’t feel too ridiculous or like too much of a stretch makes the danger feel real, and the potential for more to be exhilarating.
Mara is amazing. I loved being in her head, her reactions and responses. I liked that sometimes Mara was a coward, and her fear stopped her. She’s snarky, dark-hundred, and doesn’t take any shit. It was kind of refreshing to be inside the mind of someone who was so angry but wasn’t shouting (looking at you, Harry) and that took that fury and channeled it into something else. Mara is the villain and the hero, it all depends on perspective. That ambiguity is what makes the trilogy especially compelling – sure we could read a narrative from the perspective of an obvious villain, but it’s far more complicated than that. We root for Mara because she’s our eyes into the story; we get so wrapped up in her experience and her justification that it’s only when we encounter another character that we have to decide, as a reader, if we think Mara was right. It’s an excellent moral dilemma. For me, I do think that Mara is the villain, but I don’t think that she’s evil.
Noah Shaw says the most sexy, cheesy, romantic things. It’s terrible. In fact, its borderline pornographic. For example:
“I’m not sure you can appreciate how much I want to lay you out before me and make you scream my name.” (Evolution)
But then he says stuff like this:
“If I were to live a thousand years, I would belong to you for all of them. If we were to live a thousand lives, I would want to make you mine in each one.” (Evolution)
If a tiny part of you didn’t swoon at that, you might want to go to a doctor and check that your heart is still beating. And these quotes are just a tiny fraction of the searing love story between Noah and Mara. It’s weird because the best way I can describe Noah is kind of Edward Cullen with fewer control issues and a death wish. The common thread is that both Edward and Noah blame themselves for what happens to the people they care about, and think they’ll never fall in love. The difference is that Noah doesn’t try to interfere or control every single aspect of Mara’s life, and only offers what he can to protect her with her permission. He helps her because she asks him to, and all he wants is for her to be free. He might blame himself initially if something bad happens, but a lot of the time he comes around. Noah is meant to be the hero. I still haven’t decided if that’s the actuality.
I won’t say much regarding representation, other than to say it is there in a way that’s seamless – there’s no giant sign saying “look, a POC! oh, someone LGBT!” Good representation doesn’t pat itself on the back or tokenize.
I must also add that the fanart as inspired by this series is fantastic. I’ve pinned enough already that it might get it’s own board.
Things that are bothering me:
- Noah’s sister, Katie. She just falls off the face of the planet. She has the same parents, the risk, the same ability to pass on what they’ve discovered. And then…nothing. Obviously, with the next books being the Shaw Confessions, the chances of Katie reappearing and her role being further addressed is highly likely. The first two books cover the family stuff well, but given the plot of Retribution, some of the family/school/still being teenagers what the hell is happening things go way off the rails. It got more adult than I think most teenagers could handle, but the internal logic of the world held, so I let it go.
- The change in Mara’s parents in the last book. They went from being super over-protective, kind of annoying, and definitely invasive to…nothing. Even with some of the other context going on when we see them in the last book, something just wasn’t right. Hodkins starts to go down that path when talking about Daniel, but then it just stops like it doesn’t matter. That was really frustrating.
- I will admit that Retribution feels a bit rushed, like halfway through she changed her mind about how they got to the end. The last third of the book feels completely different, and more in-line with the rest of the trilogy. I think it made up for the odd feeling of the first two thirds. As long as the ending comes back, I’m still hanging in there.
Regardless, M.A.D./N.E.S.S. is so damn shippable.
Also, I noticed because of the way the annoying Spanish teacher says her name that “Mara Dyer” kind of sounds like “murderer.” Coincidence?
But “Noah Shaw” sounds like “no show” and the doesn’t seem to mean anything.
The last intriguing thing for me is that there is no guarantee of happily ever after for Mara and Noah. It’s actually pretty much guaranteed that things are going to end very badly between them, someday, in some future. That future will end the whole damn world, I just know it.
These books are like a drug. Or maybe like an ocean, and I’m desperate to drown.