Author: Jennie Downham
Genre: Contemporary Fiction, Young Adult, Women's Fiction
Source: Local Public Library
Publisher: Dan Fickling Books
First Published: February 23, 2016
First Line: "It was like an alien had landed."
Book Description from GoodReads: Katie is seventeen and in love with someone whose identity she’s afraid to reveal.
Caroline, Katie’s mother, is uptight, worn out, and about to find the past catching up with her.
Mary, Katie’s grandmother, suffers from Alzheimer’s and suddenly appears after years of mysterious absence.
As Katie cares for an elderly woman who brings daily chaos to her life, she finds herself drawn to the grandmother she never knew she had. 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.
Unbecoming is a vivid and exhilarating celebration of life and learning to honor your own story, infused with jenny Downham’s signature warmth, humor, and wisdom.
My Rating: 4/5 stars
My Review: Unbecoming is a family drama told through the eyes of three women - seventeen year old Katie, her mother Caroline and her grandmother Mary. Downham gets to the heart of several issues surrounding this trio of multi-generational women who are forever connected by blood but struggle to connect on a daily basis due to long-seated and still quite heated family issues.
Downham brings to light many complicated family issues - dealing with an ailing elderly parent suffering from a degenerative cognitive disease, abandonment, loss, long-held family secrets, identity, mental health ... There are a lot of issues presented to the reader but Downham handles them with care, knowledge and sensitivity as she gets to the heart of the issues that threaten to tear this family apart.
The characters are quite engaging, each with their own issues and unique flaws. Throughout the book Mary, Caroline and Katie struggle to find out who they are in relation to each other and within themselves. I found them to all be interesting, in varying degrees.
As Downham reveals the truth about family secrets you see how Mary's past decisions - and decisions made for her - affect her daughter and grandchildren. Downham's narration brings readers into the lives of these three women at different points in time giving us a clear look at why and how these women became who they are today and why the emotions continue to affect them. These revelations helped to solidify Mary, Katie and especially Caroline for me as great multi-dimensional main characters.
At first Caroline comes off as rather cold hearted especially in the way she treats her birth mother, Mary and how strict and controlling she is when it comes to her children. But as the story unfolds, and gaps are filled in for the reader, we learn about Caroline's past and how it has affected her relationships with her children, Mary and her extended family.
Mary is forever fearless, unpredictable and full of energy but her memory loss is sad to witness. I applaud how brilliantly Downham describes living with dementia through the eyes of Mary. She's still just as spunky as she was in her youth but her dementia has taken a toll on her freedom and her grasp of the past.
The book focuses a bit more on Katie and her personal struggles which I felt were honestly portrayed. It was heartwarming to see the almost instant bond she felt with Mary and how, even with dementia, Mary provided the much needed support that Katie craved.
Although the story has its slower parts I quite enjoyed this read. Deep-seated familial issues with engaging and believable characters are what this story is all about. The focus is ultimately on family - in all its forms -, love and how we deal with the baggage.