First published: 27th September 2011
By: Simon & Schuster
Mara Dyer doesn't think life can get any stranger than waking up in a hospital with no memory of how she got there. It can.
She believes there must be more to the accident she can't remember that killed her friends and left her mysteriously unharmed. There is.
She doesn't believe that after everything she's been through, she can fall in love.
This book has a fantastic opening: It starts with a handwritten note which informs us that 'Mara Dyer' is not our heroine's real name and that she is somehow involved in a string of murders. Then the first chapter takes us to 'Before' and we see an extremely spooky Ouija board session (is there any other kind?) between Mara and her friends and are told that a few months after this, Mara's friends were dead. Cue the ominous music.
Mara wakes up in hospital with no memory of what happened the night her friends died. To help her heal, her family move to Miami, Florida so Mara can start over at a new school and have a normal life. Only Mara can't go back to normal - it seems her mind has been irreparably damaged and she is haunted by hallucinations of violence, darkness and death.
The part of this book that is a psychological thriller, I absolutely loved. A lot of Mara Dyer is about typical teenage, new-school-mean-kids-hot-boy stuff, but every time we go into one of Mara's hallucinations, it's creepy-gruesome-scary stuff. And we don't always know what's real and what's Mara's delusion and all this kept me hooked. I found Mara to be a frustrating character, though, because she so obviously has serious, frightening issues, yet she refuses to get any help for them. It is realistic, because I know from experience that it's the kids with the most problems who are most resistant to accepting support, but as an adult reading about a teen like this, I was screaming: "Mara, you are seeing maggots in your food and dead people in your mirror! Get yourself to a shrink right now!"
One touch I really liked about Mara, is that she's half-Indian. It's not a big deal in the book, but YA can be so WASP-y all the time, that reading about someone who has a slightly different culture was cool.
Mara's romance with Noah is the main plot. Although the novel goes back to Mara's state of mind often enough to satisfy me, I definitely would have preferred it if the balance between the romance and the psychological stuff was weighted towards the latter rather than the former. This kind of romance is so prevalent in YA and there was an opportunity for Mara Dyer to be something completely different. I did end up falling for Noah, to my embarrassment. At first I was sure I was going to resist; he was such a stereotypical YA dream guy: Beautiful, rich, mysterious. And, of course, he's a bad boy, known to have slept with and used every girl in the school, and his banter with Mara can be explicitly sexual and crude. But God help me, after he rescues an abused dog and reads to Mara when she's sick, I was a goner. Job done, Michelle Hodkin. The chemistry between Noah and Mara is also very hot; it's a long time before they kiss, but all the staring, touching and stroking beforehand ratchets the sexual tension up to 100.
A lot of reviews I've read mention the ending to this book; it is a cliffhanger, which is something that annoys many, but my disappointment started earlier, when the truth about Mara and Noah is revealed. I wanted the explanation for Mara to come from the real world, not the paranormal and I wanted Mara and Noah to have connected as damaged people, not as supernatural. Not fair; authors doing what they want and not what I want!
This book was a good read and I enjoyed it, but as I said, the opportunity to be truly different was missed.
Rating: 4 stars