Reviews > Published on December 23rd, 2014

Bookshots: 'Both of Me' by Jonathan Friesen

Bookshots: Pumping new life into the corpse of the book review


Both of Me

Who wrote it:

Jonathan Friesen, author of the ALA Schneider Award-winning Jerk, California.

Those points where I felt my emotions were manipulated with a moment of forced impact, like when a film score ticks overly dramatic, would be immediately followed by moments of writing so powerful I couldn't help but to reread them.

Plot in a box:

While running from her haunted past, Clara meets the troubled Elias Phinn—and then meets his other personality.

Invent a new title for this book:

The Salem Glitch Hunt

Read this if you liked:

Friesen's previous book, another daddy issues-inspired road trip tome.

Meet the book's lead:

Clara, a somewhat unreliable narrator with a past.

Said lead would be portrayed in a movie by:

Shailene Woodley. You'd need someone who looks vulnerable but not weak to keep Clara likeable. 

Setting: would you want to live there?

The story's set all over the place, since Clara spends most of it traveling. But you could say it's set in Salem, the imaginary land that exists only in the mind of Jacob, alterego to main squeeze Elias. Would I want to live there? Jury's still out.

What was your favorite sentence?

"When a neuro-typical loses their footing, they yell or escape to the TV, or maybe the doctor throws them on depression meds. But when I slip, I fall all the way through. I feel the ground give way and I'm gone. It's a crack—a crack in what's real, and beneath there I'm stuck. Then, I guess I become someone else." —Elias

The Verdict:

I don't really know where to begin with this review, and I think it's because I'm still trying to figure out how to feel about the book. There are things I really love and other things I found distracting, yet I've never read anything like this, which is enough to keep it on my radar long after I set it down. 

I'll start by telling you a bit about the plot, which felt somehow both complicated and simple. The story is narrated by Clara, who lost her mother to alcoholism and her father to prison, both as a result of the ambiguous Great Undoing, which involves someone called "Little T." (You don't get a clear explanation for this until the end of the book.) After an outlying second-person prologue, you see Clara running away from home in chapter one because Dad's about to get out of prison, and she doesn't wanna be there when he gets home, since she's the one that put him there. Fairly straightforward so far.

On the plane, she meets Elias, a strange, nonsense-spouting boy with drawings seemingly straight out of Clara's past. This is where it gets weird. Their lives become impossibly entangled, until eventually they end up roadtripping across the country together, drawing a path across the U.S. from Salem, This State to Salem, That State on some crazy treasure hunt that only exists in the mind of Elias's alternate personality, Jacob—or does it?

Confused about the point yet? I was too. This was the frustrating but ultimately interesting thing about the book. It dipped into so many elements of psychology and human relationships that I had trouble keeping track, almost as if the book itself were a case study in the reliability of the brain. But at the same time, that was the fun of the book, constantly wondering who was telling the truth, who was really the crazy one. While reading, I would get annoyed by the constant sidetracks into new locations, new characters, who would serve their plot purpose and then disappear into the ether as if they'd never been...but at the end I have to wonder, was it all intentional? Were these mere plot devices, or intentional tools to further the reader's confusion? And those points where I felt my emotions were manipulated with a moment of forced impact, like when a film score ticks overly dramatic, would be immediately followed by moments of writing so powerful I couldn't help but to reread them.

There definitely is an ending that wraps up all plot lines, and there are hero's-journey character arcs for the major characters, all of which are typically satisfying for readers. But the journey, ah, the journey. That's always what matters anyway, right? And this one's definitely different than any I've taken before, and I read a lot of YA. That should be enough to consider reading.

About the author

Tiffany is a young adult novelist represented by Annie Bomke Literary Agency, and operates TJ Writeography, a freelance editing and writing service. Tiffany lives in Atlanta with her husband, dog, and two (sometimes three) kids. When she's not glued to her Apple family or chasing things around the house, she likes to read, crochet, play piano, ingest vast quantities of Cadbury eggs, and marathon Buffy the Vampire Slayer reruns. Find her at and on Twitter at @Fictiffous.

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