Beside Myselfby Ann Morgan (Website, Facebook, Twitter)
Published by Bloomsbury on January 12, 2016
Genres: Adult, Coming of Age, Contemporary, Depression & Mental Illness, Drugs, Alcohol, Substance Abuse, Literary Fiction, Psychological Suspense
Source: TLC Book Tours
Amazon • Goodreads
I received this book for free from TLC Book Tours in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.
Six-year-old Helen and Ellie are identical twins, but Helen is smarter, more popular, and their mother's favorite. Ellie, on the other hand, requires special instruction at school, is friendless, and is punished at every turn.
Until they decide to swap places--just for fun, and just for one day--and Ellie refuses to switch back. Everything of Helen's, from her toys to her friends to her identity, now belongs to her sister. With those around her oblivious to her plight, the girl who used to be Helen loses her sense of self and withdraws into a spiral of behavioral problems, delinquency, and mental illness. In time, she's not even sure of her memory of the switch.
The psychological thriller Beside Myself takes a good look at many things like nature vs. nurture, mental illness and how it affects families, the repercussions of suicide, and sibling rivalry. Twins Helen and Ellie have a unique but tenuous relationship when they’re young, mainly based on the strain after their artist father’s suicide and their mother’s withdrawal from taking care of her children. Where Helen is outgoing and a bit pushy, Ellie is withdrawn and supposedly a little bit slow due oxygen deprivation at birth. But when Helen decides that they should play a game on people and switch places with her twin for the day to see if anyone would notice in the neighborhood, Ellie decides that she likes being the confident, popular Helen too much and refuses to switch back. Since Ellie is known to make up stories, no one believes Helen when she claims that they’ve switched places.
What follows is alternating chapters of Helen’s life–now living as Ellie–as she grows up and in the present as an adult after her sister has been in a car accident and is in a coma. Helen struggles with the loss of her identity as a little girl so she lashes out at those that are supposed to love her, especially her mother and sister. As her mental illness and instability grows, she feels more helpless and acts out in more dangerous ways before finally getting some much needed help after a climactic event with her sister when they are teenagers. As an adult in the present, she’s hit her lowest point, living in squalor as an alcoholic and barely functioning from day to day as an artist. She has no friends or family to speak of, and she has no real reason to live.
The story and journey that Helen goes on is difficult to read about, and it’s punctuated in it’s darkness by how successful Ellie seems to be when she takes over Helen’s life. She thrives and goes on to become a popular daytime news personality, marrying a successful architect and having a wonderful little girl. Her life seems perfect. Their mother doesn’t really change much over the years, and remains a nasty woman who wants things to seem perfect and has no tolerance for weakness. She’s always refused to believe that the girls had switched places, and definitely favors Helen over Ellie. So much for a mother not having a favorite child!
I give Beside Myself a 4.5 out of 5. This book was such a dark, emotional journey where Ann Morgan explores what happens when a parent treats her children very differently. Mental illness is definitely not shied away from here, and Helen’s mental health problems are treated realistically and written powerfully. The settings were vivid and I really liked the way the chapters flowed from the past to the present and back. I did hope to see things from Ellie’s point of view, but we didn’t get to really see why she wouldn’t switch back. The tiny peek we get was in an unexpected way, and I’d hoped for much more and that was a bit of a let down–but it was a bit more realistic. But what wasn’t explained was how learning disabled Ellie could take over bright Helen’s life so easily without anyone at school noticing. How could she perform at such a high level when she’d needed special classes and help before? Overall, I really enjoyed this psychological literary drama, and I hope for the best for Helen.
About Ann Morgan
I’m Ann Morgan, a freelance writer and editor from London. My first book, ‘Reading the World’ or ‘The World Between Two Covers’, as it’s known in the US, was published in 2015. It was inspired by my year-long journey through a book from every country in the world, which I recorded on this blog. My next book, a novel called ‘Beside Myself’, will be published worldwide in English by Bloomsbury in 2016.
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