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Think on Ink — ‘Unbecoming’

| Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Think on Ink WEBMary McGraw

The BuzzFeed Books newsletters are an interesting mix. Most include one article about the Harry Potter series, a list of funny/inspiring/romantic quotes from the classics, features on some currently relevant best seller *cough* *Fifty Shades of Grey* and occasionally, at the very bottom, a book recommendation for the month.

For this article, I chose to read one such recommendation.

Rebecca Scherm’s “Unbecoming” is billed as a “Mystery and Thriller,” but I’d liken it more to a coming-of-age or rite of passage novel. Of course, the protagonist is a little twisted and in the end, it’s not clear she’s really matured. So maybe that’s not quite right either.

The story starts in Paris, with an American girl working in an antique repair shop. For some unknown reason, she lied to all of her coworkers — giving them a fake name and no documents. Grace from Garland, Tennessee, is Julie from California to her Parisian colleagues and though her lies are obvious, it becomes clear later on that each of her coworkers have their own reasons for letting her lie to them. Everyone, it seems, has their own secrets.

The novel, told from a third-person limited perspective, only delves into Grace’s secrets and past mistakes, leaving the reader to guess at what the others have done from Grace’s discoveries. She is the protagonist, so wrapped up in her own worries and stories that the other characters are only tangentially important.

Scherm’s story is compelling and amusing to read. I might be on a bit of a theme here, but like “Girl On A Train” and “Gone Girl,” it attempts to portray some sort of female delinquency. Unlike “Gone Girl” and even “Girl On A Train,” “Unbecoming” hardly deserves the “mystery” moniker if only because the final “solution” is made evident from the beginning. The reader knows that Grace isn’t as innocent as she would have anyone believe. The real question is whether she will learn from her past lies or not.

That said, the end was surprising. That Grace might resist all the lessons her life seems to be teaching her and not end up entirely punished, goes against everything literature has tried to teach me for the last twenty years. It’s almost, one might say, unbecoming of Scherm to give Grace the ending she does.

Still, this is perhaps what is compelling about “Unbecoming.” It’s not a story of punishment or redemption; it’s not a story of deep, spiritual change. It’s a story of art and the value of things and it’s a story of growing up in a small town where family means everything. It’s a story of escaping and reliving the past. It’s the story of a flawed girl who looks for love wherever she can find it and of the boys with whom she tries to find it.

To that end, “Unbecoming” was a rather fantastic read. As Grace flits from place to place, in her memories and in reality, Scherm has the opportunity to recreate her character to fit any society. Grace, it seems, is whatever she needs to be given her place and time; her reality is whatever lie she’s told her most recent companions. Perhaps this is why Scherm gives Grace a “happy ending,” though the finale hardly deserves the term. Grace continues on, adaptable as ever.

For my first attempt at a BuzzFeed recommended book, I’d say it was rather successful. “Unbecoming” was compelling, light and fun — exactly what I want (and expect) from my favorite procrastination website.

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About Caelin Miltko

I am a senior English and Irish language major, with a minor in Journalism. I spent the last year abroad in Dublin, Ireland and am currently a Walsh RA living in Pangborn.

Contact Caelin