Reviewed by Carrie Ardoin
It’s common knowledge that twins share a special bond, though the intricacies of it are not understood by outsiders. The debut novel Beside Myself by Ann Morgan explores what happens when this unique bond is broken, and how a seemingly minor childhood incident causes an entire family to spiral down into a dark world where everyone is in pain but no one wants to help each other out of it.
When identical twins Helen and Ellie are six years old, they decide to play a game in which they switch places. They change clothes, mannerisms, and their entire personalities. They fool most everyone in their lives, including their own mother. Ellie, who has always been the less favored girl, learns that being in her sister’s place is a vast improvement over the way she’s been treated–and quickly declares to Helen that she will not switch back. Though Helen tries her hardest to explain to her mother what is happening, no one believes her. As time passes, Helen becomes more and more emotionally distressed until she begins to suffer complete disconnects from reality–while her twin thrives.
This novel brings forward the struggles of a person with bipolar disorder, and the events in her life that led her to her many breaking points. You don’t really like or dislike Helen (or Smudge as she comes to be called), but you do feel for her and get angry both for her and at her. Mental health is a hot button issue in America at the present time, and though this book takes place in the UK, a lot of parallels can be seen; those who are mentally ill are looked over, even and especially by their own families, and once they are adults they are largely on their own.
I did not like the way the book switched back and forth in both the past and future, and second and third person points of view. After some time I got used to it, but it did pull me out of the plot a bit at every switch.
The author does an amazing job at her characterization of Smudge. Seeing a character from the very beginning up through her adulthood truly helps you understand her motives, though the reasoning may not make much sense to you as a reader. Smudge might be blamed for her own failures in life, but she also got a bad lot in life with a father who also suffered from mental health issues and a non-nurturing mother who refused to recognize what was right in front of her.
If you’re looking for a book with rich characterization and a great flow, you should check out Beside Myself. Be warned, this is not a feel good novel by any means and may contain several triggers for those who have anxiety or PTSD. There is not really a happy ending, but the story is very real.
Carrie runs the blog Sweet Southern Home, and is a stay at home wife and mom to one little boy. When she’s not reading, she’s usually watching Netflix with her husband, playing outside with her son, or baking. Her family would describe her as sometimes annoyingly sarcastic, but mostly lovable.
Review copy was provided free of any obligation by Bloomsbury USA. No monetary or any other form of compensation was received.