Monday, 10 August 2015

Review for Unbecoming by Jenny Downham

Unbecoming by Jenny Downham 
Publisher: David Fickling Books
Release: 3rd September 2015
Genre: Contemporary, UKYA, Mental Health, Feminism, LGBT, Crossover, Disability
Source: Copy received from the publisher in exchange for an honest review

"Three women - three secrets - one heart-stopping story.

Katie, seventeen, in love with someone whose identity she can't reveal. Her mother Caroline, uptight, worn out and about to find the past catching up with her. Katie's grandmother, Mary, back with the family after years of mysterious absence and 'capable of anything', despite suffering from Alzheimers.

As Katie cares for an elderly woman who brings daily chaos to her life, she finds herself drawn to her. Rules get broken as allegiances shift. Is Mary contagious? Is 'badness' genetic? In confronting the past, Katie is forced to seize the present. As Mary slowly unravels and family secrets are revealed, Katie learns to live and finally dares to love.

Funny, sad, honest and wise, Unbecoming is a celebration of life, and learning to honour your own stories."

Unbecoming is like nothing else I’ve read before in YA. It’s an ambitious book with huge literary merit that I can see appealing to people of all ages.

The book is about three generations of women in one family: Mary the grandmother, her daughter Caroline and Caroline’s daughter Katie. Teenager Katie is struggling with her sexuality after kissing her best friend and her whole school finding out about it, grandmother Mary is struggling with dementia that seems to be getting worse by the day and Katie’s mum Caroline is struggling to hold everyone together after her husband leaves her for a younger woman and her teenage son who has learning disabilities is finding his dad’s absence hard to come to terms with. Unbecoming is a book about women and the different obstacles we’ve faced throughout history and how they compare to the difficulties that girls face growing up in today’s society.

I loved the family relationships in this book and also how family was front and centre rather than romance or friendship taking centre stage as it is prone to in YA. Unbecoming is a book that I can see grandmothers and mums and daughters bonding over and discussing together as it examines growing up as a girl throughout the ages.

Despite Unbecoming covering a lot of heavy themes like dementia, coming out and disability - to name a few - it doesn’t feel like an “issue book”. It’s not tragic or depressing to read, it’s just the characters muddling on with their lot in life like we all do. Jenny Downham has an extraordinary way of making her characters and their situations feel very real.

I’ve read all of Jenny Downham’s books but I think that this is her best so far. Unbecoming is a moving and thought provoking book about coming clean of social expectations and being true to you.

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