Take a person who is the opposite of everything you are, or try to be.
Now imagine suddenly being that person.
That’s what happens to Carin Fletcher one day as a Valentine’s Day display at the local supermarket comes crashing down on her head: she body-swaps with Leann Cane, the cashier in her line. As can be expected, hijinks ensue.
I will be completely honest: this book made me uncomfortable. Not because it’s not a good book, or because it’s poorly written; neither of those are true. But because I could very strongly associate with one of the main characters, and not the one painted in the good light. Carin is what most people would call society’s “perfect person.” She has a successful job that pays her well, she’s thin and pretty, and she’s never wanted for anything in her life. Leann is clinically obese, in an abusive marriage with the man who got her pregnant at age 16, and has had to resort to desperate measures in the past just to feed herself and her family. Carin is horrified with being stuck in Leann’s body, disgusted with the way she looks and feels, and makes it very clear that she feels this is the worst possible thing that could have happened to her, and she may as well be dead.
(She doesn’t say this outright, to my memory, but it comes across clearly enough.)
Leann, unsurprisingly, is much more comfortable in Carin’s body. She looks like a model, her apartment is amazing, and she has more money than God. She couldn’t have asked for a happier accident. Though as it is wont to do, as the story continues, each woman begins to realize that maybe not everything is as it seems for both of them.
When I started reading this, I got through the first bit, looked up at my mother, and said, “I hope they redeem this character later on, because if they don’t, I’m going to have put myself through a very uncomfortable situation for no good reason.” Carin is unrelentingly harsh at the beginning on the novel, completely repulsed by what she has “become,” so to speak. And I don’t blame her. Perhaps if I were in her shoes I’d feel the same. The trouble for me is that while I’m not as heavy as Leann, I’m still clinically obese. I’ve had people look at me sideways because of the way I look. My body is uncomfortable, I struggle with food cravings, I get tired easily–so many things we see in Leann. So hearing Carin’s opinion dragged me down.
But I kept reading, hoping that I’d see character change. And while I won’t give anything away, I’ll say that I was much happier by the end.
However, the character development did seem a little one-sided. We see much less movement in Leann than we do in Carin, and I think the story suffers for it. Carin learns to adapt, work around the larger body’s downfalls, begins a proper main character’s arc of growth. Leann…I don’t see that happening. She learns a few things about herself and makes assurances that when she returns to her own body, she will be different, but I don’t see a mentality shift like I do in Carin. Carin I believe will change as she moves on, and for the better. I’m less convinced that Leann will.
In addition to that (and this is a bit of a spoiler so skip this paragraph if you don’t want to see) there is never any clue as to an explanation for why this happens. They switch bodies, they live like that for most of the book, and at the end it switches back. For a book with no other supernatural leanings, this smells of magic. I don’t know if that’s commonplace in body-swap books/media, but it seemed like a missed opportunity to me. Even if there was a stronger religious element to either character, and we could chalk it up to God interfering (though neither woman thinks much of church), that would be cleaner. It doesn’t seriously detract from the tale, but it left me feeling wanting.
All critique aside, this is an excellent debut novel for Achterberg. It’s an interesting look at the concept, and a very real look into the life we don’t lead, as it were. No corners are cut, and nothing softened to make it look better. This is real, and cruel, and heartbreaking, and at the end, I hope it leaves a smile on your face.
…As for me, I think I went to the gym right after. 😉
Review: **** (Recommended)
I’M NOT HER hits shelves on August 4th, 2015.