Reader Reviewed Unbecoming by Jenny Downham


Written by Jenny Downham

13+ readers   YA readers   
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The Lovereading4Kids comment

Award- winning Jenny Downham launched her career with Before I Die. The story of a young girl facing death, it showed a bold author who could write sensitively about a subject that could easily be sensationalised. In Unbecoming she adopts a similarly direct approach to coping with dementia, the breakdown of marriage and discovering adolescent sexuality as faced collectively and individually by three generations of women in a family. When Katie’s grandmother, whom she has always been told is dead, turns out to be alive and coming to live with them, it begins the discovery of secrets that changes everything in her life. Katie’s grandmother Mary has dementia; she is gradually loosing memories from her past. And yet, looking after her while her mother works, Katie finds that the memories that Mary retains help her to unlock secrets from her mother’s past while also liberating her own feelings and enabling her to speak truthfully at last. An ambitious story that is told across a time span of fifty years, Unbecoming swoops in and out of the lives of the three women reflecting both their enormous differences and their inextricable bonds. Mary’s dementia and increasing confusion is painful but Jenny Downham is touching in her account of it; the effect of it on Katie is optimistic but not unconvincing. ~ Julia Eccleshare

“Unbecoming is an astonishing feat of storytelling, a life-affirming book about identity and desire and learning to honour your own stories. It’s searingly honest and completely unputdownable.” - David Fickling

One of our Books of the Year 2015

Reader Reviews

Teens love to read and so in addition to our Lovereading expert opinion some of our Lovereading4kids Reader Review Panel were also lucky enough to read and review this title. You can read their full reviews by clicking here.

  • Abby Khaliq, age 13 - 'Unbecoming by Jenny Downham is a bold and thought provoking story about family, hope and risks.'
  • Francesca, age 13 - 'A wonderful, relatable novel, written by a very talented author.'
  • Alex McCalla, age 15 - 'I couldn't  put it down. It was so addictive, I had to read it again.'
  • Humaira Kauser, age 17 - 'Poignant, beautiful and moving.'
  • Rose Heathcote, age 16 - 'The most heartfelt and eye opening book I have ever read. Makes us understand the thoughts and feelings of people living with Dementia.'
  • Destiny, age 14 - 'This novel celebrates being yourself and that it's ok to be different, which I think is a very positive message to share with the excellent read and I loved it. '
  • Eloise Clarkson, age 13 - 'The characters were interesting and each had a unique personality. I thought this book was okay but not my favourite.' 
  • Amelia Corrick-Gough, age 14 - 'This is a really amazing book! I love it so much! Stop whatever you are doing and read this book!'
  • Rebekah Marsh, age 13 - 'Unbecoming is a book anyone can relate to. Whether you've had a parent walk out on you or had your friends laugh at you, the characters have gone through it all.'


Unbecoming by Jenny Downham

Three women - three secrets - one heart-stopping story.Katie, seventeen, in love with someone whose identity she can't reveal.Her mother Caroline, uptight, worn out and about to find the past catching up with her.Katie's grandmother, Mary, back with the family after years of mysterious absence and 'capable of anything', despite suffering from Alzheimers.As Katie cares for an elderly woman who brings daily chaos to her life, she finds herself drawn to her. 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.

Funny, sad, honest and wise, Unbecoming is a celebration of life, and learning to honour your own stories.


Praise for Before I Die and You Against Me:

"Destined to drive hundreds of thousands of readers to tears and to swift injunctions to all their friends to read it" - Observer

"Downham's prose is brave and bare, her characters relentlessly realistic" - Sunday Telegraph

“Tough but tender....Moving and heart-wrenching” - Independent

“A heart-stopping first novel” - New York Times

“An unflinching portrayal of love under pressure” - Publishers Weekly (Starred)

“Blows other novels out of the water” - Sugar

About the Author

Jenny Downham

Jenny Downham was our Guest Editor in January 2010. Click here to see the books she chose.

Jenny Downham was an actress for many years before concentrating on her writing full-time. She lives in London with her two sons. Her book Before I Die was critically acclaimed and was short listed for the 2007 Guardian Award and the 2008 Lancashire Children's Book of the Year, nominated for the 2008 Carnegie Medal and the 2008 Booktrust Teenage Prize, and won the 2008 Branford Boase Award.

Get to know Jenny more by watching her 30 second interview.

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Book Info


440 pages


Jenny Downham
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David Fickling Books

Publication date

2nd June 2016




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