Beside Myself, by Ann Morgan (2016)

Beside MyselfHelen and Ellie are six-year-old identical twins. Helen is the smarter, better behaved and socially well-adjusted twin, while Ellie is troublesome and “slow.” As a prank one day they swap places, but things take a dark turn when Ellie refuses to go back. No one believes Helen, and thus begins her slow spiral into depression, addiction, and poverty as everyone’s expectations of “Ellie”‘s failures shape her destiny. Morgan tells Helen’s story in two voices – using first-person as a child struggling with the wrong identity, and third-person as “Smudge” some 25 years later when Ellie-turned-Helen (now “Hellie”) has become a rich media star in London while Smudge struggles with psychological dysfunction and isolation. Their lives re-converge when a car accident puts “Hellie” in a coma. Is there a way for Smudge to finally confront her twin and put an end to the game that has ruined her life? Morgan is a freelance writer, best known as the blogger who “travelled” every country in the world through literature. In this debut novel, she shows her strength as a writer, drawing a picture of Smudge as a deeply troubled artist who struggles mightily to overcome her imposed destiny: “… all the Ellieness is stacked up round me like a high hedge and every year it grows thicker and taller with big spines so that now there is no way out” (p. 101). Smudge keeps trying despite the obstacles, but always Hellie’s shadow looms. As we come to know characters better, their flaws emerge more clearly, and Smudge is no exception, making this a difficult story at times. Like other readers, I struggled at the start to find a connection with bossy little Helen, but the shift in time to Smudge’s world caught my attention quickly, so I stuck with it and am really glad I did. This is not a happy book, but neither is it a sad one. It’s an honest portrayal of mental illness, and the self-deceit that lets us excuse our actions and consequence. Gripping and thought-provoking. My thanks to publisher Bloomsbury for the advance reading copy through NetGalley.
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About Michelle Mallette
I'm just trying to keep track of the books I've read - what I liked and what isn't worth re-reading. My work as a librarian has included youth services so you'll find a wide range of interests from picture books and teen dystopia to adult sci-fi, road trip novels, and nonfiction. Comments and communication is always welcome.

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