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.
Twenty-five years later, she receives a call that threatens to pull her back into her sister’s dangerous orbit. Will she take this chance to face her past?
Hardcover: 336 pages
Publisher: Bloomsbury USA (January 12, 2016)
I was drawn to Beside Myself due to the plot description of identical twins changing places, finding twins fascinating and I'll say it, sometimes a bit creepy, especially when they are children. (I blame The Shining... and more recently, last year's The Ice Twins.) I started the book with serious doubt that two six-year-old twins could be misidentified on a long-term basis without being found out, especially when they were so different in personality (and even, it seems at first, in their intelligence), but Ann Morgan pulls it off exceedingly well with her carefully plotted tale. I kept hearing the popular quote by Don Miguel Ruiz in my mind as I read, "We only see what we want to see; we only hear what we want to hear. Our belief system is just like a mirror that only shows us what we believe." With summer vacation keeping the twins at home and usually left to their own devices, a father who committed suicide, a distracted mother with her own issues, and the few adults and friends around at the beginning of the swap preoccupied with their own lives--there was no one to care or see the differences until the switch was firmly in place and then their beliefs showed them what they wanted to see. The original Ellie was thought to have issues, to be 'lesser-than' Helen and treated so differently and badly by her mother (don't get me started on my hatred of this character) that when Helen starts receiving the same treatment after the switch makes her Ellie, it makes sense that her behavior and personality change and she starts to spiral out of control when some terrible events happen that put her on the road to addiction and much more.
The story is told by Helen (now the new Ellie who refers to herself as Smudge... and yes, that's all a bit hard to explain clearly), alternating from past to present day where Smudge, suffering from mental illness, is living on public assistance, estranged from her family and isolating herself from others. A call from her mother informs her that her sister (now a popular television personality with a husband and daughter) is in a coma she begins to wonder if she can finally get her 'stolen' life back. It's a dark book with many twists and turns, at times depressing and tough to read with everything that happened to Smudge. With her mental health issues, manic personality swings, and often savage manner, she is a character that isn't easy to connect to, but as much as I found myself jarred and frustrated by her, I felt sorry for her and wanted to see her dig herself out. Beside Myself is tagged as a mystery-thriller and it is, though leaning strongly to the psychological-thriller side of things, with a big dose of family drama. Well written and satisfying, it is intense, complex, and it kept me up at night turning the pages and then thinking about it after I finished--all things I look for in a book.
(If Beside Myself sounds like your kind of book, enter below to win a copy. Giveaway is open to US/Canada addresses and runs until 2/1/16.)
Author Notes: Ann Morgan is the author of The World Between Two Covers, based on her year-long journey around the world via books from every country. She continues to blog about her adventures with world literature at ayearofreadingtheworld.com. Morgan’s writing has also appeared in The Independent, The Financial Times, The Scotsman, BBC Culture, and The Guardian, among many others. She lives in London.
So there are books that are full of food inspiration and Beside Myself is not one of those books. It's too full of dark twists and anguish to be concerned with food. Most of the food mentions are things like tea and stale biscuits, sandwiches and crisps, with a few breakfasts and dinners thrown in. Nothing really stood out until I thought about the twins' elderly neighbor, Mrs. Dunkerley ("...with her cabbage smell that always follows her around.")
'Well girls,' she says. 'Helen and Eleanor, isn't it? But which one is which? I can never tell - you're like two peas in a pod.'
So I figured I could do something with 'peas in a pod.' Since I am always craving pickled veggies on my plate (and getting trapped into being your twin would be considerably more than a 'pickle" to end up in), I decided to make some Quick-Pickled (Sugar Snap) Peas in a Pod as my dish inspired by the book.
I am a fan of the quick pickle for using up veggie leftovers or making the most of what's available in the produce department. Most quick pickles will keep for close to a month in the fridge and they are fast to make and keep much of the crunch of the veggies--something I like. I mix up the flavors for my pickles depending on what I have on hand. In this case I wanted them simple with a kick of spice and ginger and garlic notes. Since I am off of most added sugars for the month, especially processed sugar, I used a small amount of honey to just cut the edge of the sour, relying on the sweetness of the sugar snaps themselves for balance.
Quick-Pickled Sugar Snap Peas
By Deb, Kahakai Kitchen
4 cups sugar snap peas
1 cup rice vinegar
1/2 cup water
1 Tbsp honey
pinches of: sea salt, red pepper flakes, pickling spice, to taste
about 1 /12 inches fresh ginger, peeled and thinly sliced
1-2 garlic cloves, peeled and thinly sliced
Wash and drain peas. Trim ends and remove any tough strings along the back of the pea as needed. (I am lazy and usually just do this on the larger sugar snap peas I buy.)
In a small sauce pan, heat the rice vinegar, balsamic, water and honey until the honey is dissolved.
Prepare a couple of canning jars or one large jar (16 oz) by putting the ginger and garlic slices at the bottom. Pack the peas as tightly as possible in the jar. (They will soften with the liquid so if you can't get them all in, set the remaining aside until you pour in the pickling liquid.)
Pour the pickling liquid over the peas. pushing them down and adding any remaining peas as you can. Carefully tap the jar a few times on the counter to remove any air bubbles. Cap jar and allow to cool for about an hour before placing in fridge.
You can eat them once they are cooled but they are best after a day or so in the fridge. They will keep several weeks in refrigerator, if they last that long. ;-)
Notes/Results: Sweet, sour, and slightly spicy, these sugar snap peas are a crisp tasty little snack, or a nice side to a sandwich or a rich dish. The pickling juice is quite tart but it works so well with the sweetness of the peas and the ginger and garlic notes go well with the rice vinegar, giving them an Asian feel. You can of course flavor them whatever way you like--dill or other herbs like tarragon or mint would be nice. Good when you want a healthy nibble, or to quench a pickle craving. I will make them again.
The publisher has generously offered a copy of Beside Myself to one of my readers as part of this TLC Blog Tour. (Open to US/Canada addresses)
To enter the Rafflecopter Giveaway below, leave a comment please (Because I like to read them!) ;-) telling me why you are interested in reading Beside Myself.
There are a couple of other optional ways to get entries 1) Tweet about this giveaway (you can do this once per day if you like) or 2) follow me on Twitter (@DebinHawaii).
The Giveaway runs until 1/31/16. Good Luck!
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Note: A review copy of "Beside Myself" was provided to me by the publisher and TLC Book Tours in return for a fair and honest review. I was not compensated for this review and as always my thoughts and opinions are my own.
You can see the stops for the rest of this Book Tour and what other reviewers thought about the book here.