Thursday, February 5, 2015

Book Review: Both of Me

Jonathan Friesen's YA book, Both of Me, was just plain weird. I couldn't get behind the writing style (which felt somewhat stilted) and was annoyed by crazy little things that pop up out of nowhere, yet are not elaborated upon at all (i.e, the time the main character shakes a woman's hand and the woman's finger falls to the ground because she has leprosy). It is just a crazy tale and I'm somewhat surprised that I stuck with it.

I know what held me. I was waiting for the big reveal of the main character's "Great Undoing." It is alluded to throughout the book as the impetus for driving the plot line and the quest. While I do think the reveal was worthwhile, the rest of the book just didn't appeal to me all that much. I can appreciate the main character's psychological angst and the supporting character's mental illness, I just can't appreciate the writing style.

Clara is travelling the world (running from her father who was just released from prison and can finally take over the care of her younger siblings), following her father's old journals from his own travels, when she comes upon an unusual seatmate on a plane to Minneapolis. He is sketching frantically and babbling incoherently. When he falls asleep, she views his sketchpad and is shocked to see images of her own life. How does this individual know so much about her? Then, she realizes that he has accidentally taken off with her backpack and she must track him down to retrieve it.

The more she learns of Elias Phinn, the boy, the more perplexed she is. He suffers from something called dissociative identity disorder. When he is in his normal mind, he is charming and endearing. When he is the Other One, he lives in a bizarre world called "Salem" and is driven by a quest to find the Lightkeeper. Clara is drawn to normal Elias, but is also sucked in with a desire to help the Other One. He leads her on a quest to find the Lightkeeper and right a wrong from his past, which somehow allows him to see into her hidden past. The quest is a hodgepodge of disjointed experiences where they purchase a small airplane, take on a drifter to serve as guard, lie their way into temporary possession of a house, and spend time in an art commune while Elias repairs the airplane. It is full of wacky characters and bizarre experiences.

Moreover, the main character pontificates repeatedly about her agnosticism. She explains, "My early years were filled with simple prayers and church steeples and real belief. Dad said God was real, so it had to be so. Mum tried to keep up the act after Dad was gone, but I was a good guesser and she was rotten at charades. Besides, a fiction only willing to bring his own son back to life did little good for me, little good for Little T." (Little T. is her youngest brother who is mysteriously missing and connected somehow to the Great Undoing).

Thus, the combination of references to a non-God, bizarre characters and plot developments, and unusual writing style all sunk this book for me. I don't regret reading it, but will not hold it up as something to emulate. Moreover, I doubt I would recommend it for good YA reading. But if you're looking for a strange, disjointed experience, or interested in dissociative identity disorder, plunge away and read this book. You will get the strange you are looking for.

The author does have a noble purpose behind writing the book. He writes: "My hope is Both of Me will challenge readers’ ideas about labeling people as abnormal. After all, we all fall into fictional worlds, choosing to spend time there when the “real” one overwhelms. Spend some time with Elias in Salem, and discover that sometimes the labels that call us different or broken are simply another way of seeing and approaching life." (quoted on in his explanation of the story behind the story)

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