Unbecoming is an unusual coming-of-age novel. It is told from the point of view of the main protagonist, young, amenable, sharp-witted Grace, who’s moved from the small town she grew up in, to Paris. Here she lives and works under an assumed name, and waits for the day her boyfriend will come for her.
The novel starts off with “Julie/Grace” in Paris, and delves into the storyline with “flashbacks”. We get to know of Grace’s distant parents, and of her affection for the Graham clan, of which boyfriend Riley is part. Then there are Riley’s friends Alls and Greg, and the rest of the suffocating small town society where everyone knows everyone else. There is a great need for money, and a lack of opportunities, as Grace sees it, in their small world, and she longs to get out of there with Riley. So she hatches a plan, but the aftermath of the plan will be hard to deal with.
Grace was such an interesting character. She’s smart and has aspirations, but she also has flaws and clings to Riley and his family for emotional succor. Her self-worth is so tied in with being Riley’s girlfriend, and being the daughter kind Mrs. Graham has always wanted. She changes herself to “fit” the “good girlfriend/daughter” roles, and then some. Props to the author for so beautifully bringing out Grace’s personality, especially because the narrative is in the third person, and I’ve always thought that doing a point-of-view telling in the third person is hard.
Unbecoming stands out because of the excellent character development. The book, while suspenseful, is not quite thriller-paced, but I really enjoyed the way the story is drawn out, bit by bit. Scherm weaves in present day events and the past seamlessly. I also loved Catherine Taber’s narration. Taber’s unique voice is slightly nasal, a little sibilant and a tad humid, if you can call a voice humid. It is well-suited to Grace’s personality, and Taber does a great job communicating Grace’s temperament and state of mind through the inflections in her voice.
This was an excellent, engrossing listen. Highly recommended.