How did I get it: Sourcebooks Fire, which is awesome. I’m definitely looking forward to reading more of their books in the near future.
Why did I get it: There was a period in my life where I read a ton of Jodi Picoult and where I greatly enjoyed them. Eventually I got sort of burnt by one that seemed absolutely awful, especially compared to The Ninth Circle. Anyway, because I enjoyed them, when I heard that Janet Gurtler was sort of the YA equivalent, I knew I had to give her a shot.
How I would rate it: 4 out of 5 stars.
Tess is the exact opposite of her beautiful, athletic sister. And that’s okay. Kristina is the sporty one, Tess is the smart one, and they each have their place. Until Kristina is diagnosed with cancer. Suddenly Tess is the center of the popular crowd, everyone eager for updates. There are senior boys flirting with her. Yet the smiles of her picture-perfect family are cracking and her sister could be dying. Now Tess has to fill a new role: the strong one. Because if she doesn’t hold it together, who will?
Review: I do not read a lot of mainstream fiction, YA or otherwise, but I really found this book to be really engaging in terms of the writing, voice of the main character, and plot. Tess read like an incredibly likable and real teen narrator. I loved how she was a bit of an outsider and very strong, but still fifteen and still struggling to have something normal in her life in the face of her sister’s cancer. And through the hard times, Tess began to learn a lot about herself, the sort of person she is, and the sort of person the people in her life really are.
Throughout I’m Not Her, Tess also grew in really organic ways too. I liked that she didn’t change herself or try to usurp Kristina’s position but instead had to find ways of connecting to members of her family while looking for support elsewhere. And I think the connections she made were believable and their outcomes were really unexpected as well as touching. I also greatly appreciated that, while the book had a little bit of romance, there wasn’t really a romantic plot or even subplot.
It was really sad to learn just how much Tess was used to disappearing into her art or academic pursuits, but also to watch as many of those are taken away from her while her sister undergoes chemo and surgeries. It was even more painful watching her parents break down, disappear, drink too much, or behave badly. I sort of wish there’s been a bit more closure or some evidence that either one was going to attempt to be more of use to their daughters, but unlike more parents in YA novels, at least Tess’ mom and dad had a proper motivation for becoming as dysfunctional as they did. And I don’t think their behavior seemed outlandish or far-fetched at all.
I have to say though that was the focus, slight as it was, on Tess’ not-really friend, Melissa, being overweight and therefore a bitter and hateful jerk when it came to dealing with better-looking girls at their school including Kristina really bothered me. Not because it doesn’t happen in high school but because the meaner Melissa was, the more mention was made of her physical characteristics as if the two went hand in hand. I don’t think or even expect YA books to be any more or less sensitive about all kinds of issues than any other sort of book. I also realize that I’m Not Her is from the point of view of a fifteen-year-old, but I don’t think falling back on old, tired clichés makes any sense in a story that was actually sort of a refreshing take on teen sisters, cancer, and difficult times.
In conclusion, this book was very, very good. I think the Picoult comparision is apt in some respects, but I’m Not Her was definitely a better read. I also cannot wait to start reading the ARC I have for If I Tell.