What are the odds that I would randomly read three books in a row that featured twins? Two books maybe, but when twins showed up in the third book, even though they were minor characters, it started to get a little creepy.
Ann Morgan’s Beside Myself, out from Bloomsbury back on January 12, is a disturbing, little thriller, one that would make any set of twins think twice about pulling the switcheroo trick on folks. As a young girl in late ‘80s/early ‘90s England, Helen convinces her twin Ellie to swap places to see who they can fool. An innocent game, right? Not so much, and the consequences bring disastrous results for Helen for the rest of her life. Much emotional trauma and mental illness ensue and it’s difficult to tell the villains from the victims. I felt for Helen and her predicament at times; at others, when she managed to dig her hole even deeper, I just wanted to give her a good smack. Sometimes, I wondered if the entire identity switch never even happened, instead possibly being contained entirely within the confines of Helen’s scrambled-egg brain. At all times, I deeply loathed Helen and Ellie’s utterly rigid and dysfunctional mother, a beast of a woman whose main goal is to appear perfect at all times.
Ann Morgan is a decidedly British writer in style and tone which suited me just fine, and she has crafted a fantastic psychological debut novel in Beside Myself. Take the time to check this one out.
January 12 also brought Crown’s release of Eleanor by Jason Gurley, which features another set of identical twin sisters, Eleanor and Esmerelda. A car accident claims Esmerelda at the age of six or seven, leaving Eleanor and her parents adrift. Her mother retreats inwardly into alcoholism, while her father abandons the family home, leaving Eleanor to grow up with her mother’s drunkenness and increasing rage. As Eleanor enters her teen years, her reality begins to shift in the weirdest of fashions. As she passes through a school doorway, she suddenly finds herself plunked smack in the middle of a beautiful cornfield. She eventually manages to fall back into her own world only to find much more time has passed than she realized. The next time her world shifts she’s thrown into a rainy, muddy wilderness. These transferences, always against her will, increase and ultimately she learns much about her family’s loss and her shattered parents.
As I read Eleanor, smartly-written and compelling, I couldn’t decide whether Gurley was aiming his tale at adults or young adults. These days I realize that just as many adults are fans of YA lit as teens are so I suppose it’s a moot point. It could also be called a modern fantasy novel, given its dream-world dimensions, or even literary speculative fiction. Whatever. I should just shut up and say I found it lovely and ethereal and sad. No matter what you call it, Jason Gurley’s Eleanor is a damn good book.
Twins also factor in The Good Goodbye (release date: January 19) by Carla Buckley, although they’re the younger brothers of Arden, who is the main event here along with her cousin, Rory. Arden and Rory might as well be sisters though, growing up tightly together with Rory as the ringleader and Arden as her loyal disciple. Told from the differing perspectives of Arden, Rory and Arden’s mother, Natalie, Buckley’s novel explores family dynamic and dysfunction in the wake of a dorm room fire that leaves both girls clinging to life in a hospital ICU. How did the fire start? Who started it? Were Arden and Rory two points of a love triangle that suddenly disintegrated? What secrets were they keeping from their parents? There was more than enough suspense and trepidation to keep me turning pages.
Several themes abound here: the strength of familial bonds and how much it takes to break them, parental pressure, teenage secrecy and manipulation of parents and each other. Rory and Arden are complex characters, each driven by different impulses to succeed in academics and life in general. They have a fierce, sisterly love for each other, yet Rory is more than a little manipulative with Arden, and Arden almost always willingly caves. It was hard to like Rory, but even harder to like her domineering mother, Gabrielle; as a result, while I found Rory’s ways more than a little objectionable, it was easy to understand the source of her psyche.
I was absolutely dying to find out the cause of and motivation for the fire, and I have to say, while some reviewers have indicated the ending was a let-down, I found it completely satisfying. But no spoilers here. You’ll have to read it yourself.
Full Disclosure: A review copy of Beside Myself was provided to me by Bloomsbury USA via NetGalley; a review copy of Eleanor was provided to me by Crown Publishing via NetGalley; and finally, a review copy of The Good Goodbye was provided to me by Random House Publishing Group – Ballantine via NetGalley. I would like to thank each of these publishers for providing me the opportunity to read and review these titles. All opinions expressed herein are my own.