As often is the case, the book cover for Unbecoming by Rebecca Scherm drew me in. How could I resist that mysterious face? Who was this person and why the dots? I thought the publisher’s brief description of the concept sounded really interesting, and that was that for me.
Unbecoming is a suspense novel that hinges on no one and nothing being as it appears. It revolves around a cat-and-mouse game involving three young people, two in jail and one trying desperately to remain invisible. How they got into this situation and what becomes of them is the question of the day. If you like quietly tense, mesmerizing, and suspenseful psychological studies, then this novel might be just what you’re looking for. Read our review to find out and then be sure to enter the giveaway!
Julie is not Julie – she’s Grace but no one where she lives now knows that. Julie/Grace grew up in the small town of Garland, Tennessee and she could hardly wait to escape it, but that’s not how she became Julie. Or maybe it is, come to think of it, but then I’m getting ahead of myself.
Let’s talk about Julie/Grace now. She works long hours at a painstaking job on the outskirts of Paris, restoring antique and/or precious items of all kinds, and she loves every minute of it. It feels like what she was always meant to do and where she was always meant to be. So, if she loves her work and loves living in Paris then why did Grace from Tennessee turn herself into Julie from California? Why does she try to blend into the wallpaper? Why is she stressed to the max? And why is she constantly looking over her shoulder?
It’s actually pretty simple and yet it’s complicated all at the same time. Julie/Grace is on the run and she has been for almost three years. She did something she can’t undo and she’s afraid it’s about to catch up with her because her two partners in what she can’t undo are about to be released from jail and she knows in her soul that one of them will come after her. Unfortunately she still hasn’t figured out what she will do when he shows up, that is if he is able to find her after the secretive, complex path she’s taken to get here. She gets knots in her stomach and nightmares just thinking about everything that has and still can go wrong…and she can’t stop thinking about what can still go wrong.
“I’m coming, Riley had said back then, I promise.
Unlike Grace, Riley had always kept his promises.”
So how did Julie/Grace find herself in this situation? Well it all began with lies, lies that began to roll downhill like a snowball ever escalating into an avalanche. Growing up in Garland, Grace knew she was different from the people around her – except for Riley. She and Riley had a love of art in common. He was her best friend and her knight in shining armor, and his family was like a gift from God. They basically adopted her, trying to save her from something a platitude would call a less than wonderful situation at home.
She and Riley were inseparable, two peas in a pod, and everyone, including them just assumed that one day they would get married. That said, their parents probably thought that meant after college instead of a secret elopement as soon as it was legal – an elopement they’ve never told anyone about. Grace and Riley had what they thought were good reasons for it. Riley was going to stay in Garland for two years, going to the junior college there and painting. Grace was going to NYU on a full scholarship to study art history. The plan was for Riley to join her in two years.
Manhattan was a huge adjustment for Grace, a jolt on many different levels. It challenged all of her provincial small-town ideas, including those she held most holy – the ones about what was good and worthy art. She began to look at Riley’s representational art as inferior and amateurish, even though it was well done. And that began to erode other thoughts about Riley, along with a pretty big secret desire she had kept from him – one she could never tell him about ever, no matter what.
Then something happened which shook Grace’s world, and she found herself back in Garland, a place she swore she’d never return to. And that’s when that snowball began to really pick up speed. When it did, Grace began to plot and plan how to get out of Garland. Aided by several misfortunes, it didn’t take long to begin to entice Riley and their two housemates with her outrageous plan’s possibilities. The only problem was that Grace could tell they were going to mess it up so badly that they would get caught and, being macho guys, they refused to listen to her reasoning about it.
When she realized they were hell bent on doing things in the dumbest way possible, Grace knew she had to take extreme measures to ensure she got what she needed but didn’t end up caught with them. And that’s how Grace ended up in Europe while two of the three boys ended up in jail. Ironically the biggest screw-up of the three (who caused them to all get caught) never went to jail, thanks to his parents’ intervention and connections.
“’What was he in prison for? I don’t think you told me.’
‘Robbery. Antiques, actually.’ Grace felt the blood rush into her cheeks. ‘He and some friends looted an estate.’
…’They were caught in five days. They hadn’t sold anything yet. The estate got it all back.’ Except for the painting.
Hanna began to flip through her notes, but Grace could tell she wasn’t looking at them. ‘When did this happen?’
‘About three years ago,’ Grace said. ‘Just after I came to Europe.’ She folded her hands in her lap. ‘Now they’re out and it’s just got me a little…unsettled.’ She shrugged hopelessly.
‘This is the one you’re afraid of,’ Hanna said.
‘Yeah,’ Grace said, her throat growing hot. She shifted uneasily in her seat. ‘I never broke up with him. I was afraid to. I went to Prague for a summer college thing, and a week later, I read in the local news that he and his two best friends had been arrested.’
…Hanna frowned. ’What did you do when you found out?’
‘Nothing. I never talked to him again. I was so shocked and horrified, I just – shut down.’”
After some horrific experiences along her trek across Europe, Grace finally came to Paris, changed her name to Julie, dyed her hair and concentrated on becoming the most invisible person on the planet. Even so, she always knew the day would arrive when he would come looking for her because she knew he wouldn’t be able to help himself. At least she now prays it will only be him who comes and, even so, she knows that he’s had four long years in a hellhole of a place to stew about her betrayal. He won’t be the same person and he will be very angry. What she doesn’t know is what will happen when he gets there and that is making her completely nuts.
Some people seem to lie like they breathe; something I’ve never understood. Julie/Grace is, on the one hand, not a very sympathetic character because she is highly manipulative and has a set of very light fingers (as my grandmother would politely say). Yep, she covets little things that bring her comfort initially and she steals them without ever thinking of it as stealing, at least at first. And she doesn’t ever expect to get caught, even though stealing them shames her to the core.
And then there’s the other side of Julie/Grace, the side that has been damaged since she was very small – the side that is doing the best she can to survive in the world, and obviously has no clue how to go about that without disastrous consequences. Desperate situations call for desperate measures seems to have been her guiding principle. Riley and his family are good, grounded, open-hearted people. I’ll let you discover his housemates and the others who play a role in Julie/Grace’s life…can’t give it all away, now can I?
Rebecca Scherm has written an intense and highly suspenseful psychological study in Unbecoming. It is a novel that makes you dig deep. Some reviews have elevated it to Alfred Hitchcock’s level. After reading it, I can see why they’ve mentioned that similarity but I hesitate to make that comparison. I think you need to approach it on its own merits because, after all, no one does Alfred Hitchcock like Alfred Hitchcock did. That said, it’s a complex, nail-biting read. I kept finding myself saying this a lot, “Damn it, don’t do that. You know it’s not going to work and it will only make things worse!” If Unbecoming sounds like a novel that might pique your interest then be sure to enter our giveaway!
Can’t wait to read it?
Unbecoming was published on January 27, 2015, so it’s available from your favorite online bookseller below (or in the right column for iBooks). Just click on the links and you’ll have it to read in no time!
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One lucky reader will win an ARC (advance readers copy) of Unbecoming by Rebecca Scherm!
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