Imagine if your estranged identical twin sister disappeared at a spa in California, but you couldn’t find anything about the organization. This is the premise of I’ll Be You* by Janelle Brown, a novel in which twins Sam and Elli have a tenuous relationship because of their shared past as famous television child actors. They are adults now but have followed two very different paths. Elli, the sister who has vanished, has always been the cautious, dependable twin but has been behaving more erratically lately. Sam is a former addict, a reformed party girl, and a struggling waitress. Janelle Brown focuses on the fractured family relationships that follow the girls into adulthood.
Sam has taken advantage of the fame and money from her childhood, but her addiction to drugs and alcohol have sabotaged any chance of an acting career as an adult. When the book opens, Sam is attempting to maintain her sobriety and stay employed. The sisters have grown apart and never speak because of Sam’s destructive past. So she is shocked when their parents ask her to babysit Elli’s daughter. Sam, who didn’t even know Elli had a daughter, learns that Elli is getting divorced and in the process of adopting. Elli has told their parents she was at a wellness retreat; however, Sam believes Elli is in trouble and investigates the wellness group, suspecting that Elli could be involved in a cult. Through the sisters’ past and present experiences, Brown examines Sam’s fears and insecurity regarding her relationship with Elli, her parents, and her sense of self worth.
I loved the characters, especially Sam, because she wants so desperately to be seen as worth loving. Brown writes about parents and children, “you could simply argue that all children grow by cutting their parents down to a manageable size. It’s only once you recognize that they aren’t superhuman, after all, that you start aspiring to evolve beyond them.” Ultimately, Sam hopes to find “a glimpse of something new inside myself, a seed that has the potential to grow. I was curious what it might become.” There are several dramatic reveals that are satisfying surprises. Without spoiling the ending, I can say that Brown kept me reading late into the night to discover what actually happened to the sisters. This novel combines elements of a mystery and a psychological thriller in a compelling story with vibrant characters.
*I’ll Be You will be published April 26, 2022