Review: Jenny Downham – Unbecoming

Jenny Downham

Katie’s grandmother has unexpectedly come to stay. Katie’s life has been fragmenting since her parents split up, and this new addition to an already dysfunctional family could be the end of it. In coming to care for her eccentric grandmother, Katie comes to realise that family is complicated – but that doesn’t mean it is inherently bad.

9780545907170_xlgThis novel touches on a number of important topics – sexuality, family history and degenerating health conditions. The family history here is convoluted and lovely, and exposed sneakily by Katie’s perspective, and also from Mary’s memory. Mary’s memory loss is extreme, and is getting worse, but she is still trying to work out what has gotten lost, and why it is important.

Dementia can be a tricky subject to portray in a manner that is convincing, but it is done so brilliantly here. The mentions of Jack being present for Mary could have been jarring, but instead they were comfortingly woven into the text, where they could be either past memories or imaginings from Mary.

What I liked about Katie and Jamie/Simona’s relationship was that it was less ‘typical’ or predictable than relationships in other novels, where being in love doesn’t solve all problems. Something I always struggle with, both in novels and in real life, is that any gay characters are automatically expected to like each other! I mean, the saying is that ‘there are plenty more fish in the ocean’ for straight people, and I think that needs to be different for gay or alternative relationships – it’s more like an overcrowded pond with plenty of random fish that are forced to be friendly because they share the same space. Is that too much of an analogy?

The ending was a little neat for my now-refined taste, but there’s nothing intrinsically wrong with that. This is the second novel I have read recently that doesn’t offer easy answers, or a linear, unimaginative plot. Not being able to predict characters based on past novels you have read (and I have read a lot) is beginning to be a sign of brilliance of authors I read.

This is a valuable contribution to YA literature. Highly recommended reading.


Thanks to Scholastic for providing me with a complimentary copy.


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