Book Review: Beside Myself, Ann Morgan (2016)

Monday, January 11th, 2016

Can we make 2016 the year of Creepy Twin Shenanigans? Please please please!?

four out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free electronic copy of this book for review through Netgalley. Trigger warning for rape, including the rape of a child and sibling sexual abuse.)

You stroke his smooth skin. Its softness makes you want to climb inside him, put on what he is, and begin the world again.

Bored and left mostly to their own devices – as they so often are – six-year-old twin sisters Helen and Ellie Sallis decide to play a trick on the adults: swap identities and see if anyone can tell the difference. The prank proves such a smashing success that, by the time anyone catches on, it’s far, far too late to turn back. Having gotten a taste of what it’s like to live as Helen, Ellie refuses to go back to the way things were.

Ellie holds fast to her story, insisting that she is indeed Helen, and their mother Margaret believes her: after all, Helen was always the responsible, mature one, while silly Ellie spins fanciful tales, tells outright lies, and has trouble distinguishing reality from make-believe. When the real Helen speaks up, her claims are brushed off as just another one of Ellie’s phases. The only adults who believe her – Grandmother and Mrs. Dunkerley, their next door neighbor and sometimes-babysitter – both suffer from dementia, making them even less reliable witnesses than Ellie herself.

If you think that stealing your twin’s identity is a drastic measure, well, desperate times. To say that Margaret (and, more generally, life) treats Ellie unfairly is an understatement of epic proportions. Mom is emotionally abusive at best: she frequently neglects Ellie; purposefully leaves her out of mother-daughter activities, like shopping trips; and scolds and mocks her. Ellie is always ‘making their side look bad’ or ‘letting the team down.’ Naturally, this behavior rubbed off Helen: she often bullies Ellie, both verbally and physically.

(More below the fold…)