A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this book.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Unbecoming is the story of three generations of women and how their past and the secrets they've kept reverberate across time and one another. It explores mature themes through the points of view of each woman at different times in their lives, making it best for strongly independent readers fascinated by family history and dynamics. Drinking, smoking, and strong language are rare; one party is matter-of-fact about teens drinking beer and cocktails, and it's mentioned that they're probably high or drunk. Smoking in the '50s and '60s is mentioned more frequently. There are a few kisses between same-sex and opposite-sex couples as Katie, 17, starts to realize she's attracted to girls. Teen pregnancy is a prominent theme, and a painful labor and childbirth are described. Other mature themes include memory loss, developmental delay, hiding the truth, and abandonment.
What's the story?
Katie kissed a girl, and she liked it. Unfortunately the girl, Katie's best friend, then destroys what little social standing Katie had at school. In the midst of all this drama, Katie's estranged grandmother unexpectedly comes to stay with Katie, her mother, and younger brother. Grandmother Mary suffers from memory loss, probably from Alzheimer's, and Katie now has to spend the summer taking care of Mary, who escapes the house daily to wander lost around town. To try to help Mary's memory, Katie starts writing down Mary's stories about her past. Family secrets start to come out, enraging Katie's mother, who wants to keep them all firmly locked away. But Mary's not the only one with secrets: Katie can't be honest about herself with her family or friends, and her mother's definitely hiding something, too. Katie's determined to find out the truth about her family, but when opening old wounds starts to tear everything and everyone apart, can Katie's UNBECOMING heal the wounds and bring peace to herself and her family?
Is it any good?
This drama set in the United Kingdom is an absorbing look at family dynamics and how the past, even if it’s forgotten, continues to echo through the following generations. Shifting points of view between 17-year-old Katie and her grandmother add depth and richness to the slow reveal of the family’s past. It also broadens the appeal beyond YA; Unbecoming is a book that can be savored by adults and teens alike. Teen drama and romance are definitely present, but they take a backseat to piecing together Grandmother Mary’s story, so it’s best for mature, independent readers who enjoy family history and dynamics.
This is Jenny Downham’s third YA novel, and she continues to hone her skill with varied, believable narrators who are easy to relate to. The different voices in different periods of time are ably unified by an underlying warmth, sly humor, and refreshing honesty that keep the engaging characters on your mind long after the last page is turned.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about memory loss. Has anyone experienced it in your own family? Did Unbecoming change your perception of memory loss or of living with someone who suffers from it?
What does being "unbecoming" mean? How is it different, or the same, for Mary and Katie?
Is there someone you could make a "memory book" for? Do you think they'd like one? What would you like to know about your parents' or grandparents' lives?
- Author: Jenny Downham
- Genre: Family Life
- Topics: Brothers and Sisters, Great Girl Role Models, Misfits and Underdogs
- Book type: Fiction
- Publisher: David Fickling Books
- Publication date: February 23, 2016
- Publisher's recommended age(s): 14 - 18
- Number of pages: 384
- Available on: Nook, Hardback, iBooks, Kindle
- Last updated: July 13, 2017
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