Jenny Downham

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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.


I’m really loving how YA fiction is tackling so many different issues at the moment. Unbecoming, the new novel by Jenny Downham, author of the brilliant Before I Die, is no exception, with sexuality and family being central topics.

Katie has never met her grandmother before. Understanding that her mother and grandmother have not spoken in years, she is surprised when her mother, albeit reluctantly, agrees to take her ageing grandmother into their home until other accommodation can be found. What then begins is the unravelling of Katie’s family history and her grandmother’s spiral into the ever distressing state of dementia.

While family life is increasingly turning into a circus, school and friends are not much better. Katie’s decision to kiss her best friend has ended in constant ridicule about her sexuality from girls at school, while Katie struggles to work out whether she is gay or not.

Unbecoming is a strong book which focuses on some very important topics, especially the confusion and worry teens can feel about their sexuality. The homophobia portrayed is all too real, while the character of her grandmother and her impending memory loss are heartbreaking. This is a beautiful story for teens interested in reality-based reading. Ages 13 and up.

Katherine Dretzke is a bookseller at Readings Hawthorn.

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