Book Review: Beside Myself by Ann Morgan

This book explores themes of identity, deception, and mental illness in a gripping intricate way.

At six years old twins Helen and Ellie can’t be more different. Helen is always praised for her schoolwork, helpfulness at home, has many friends. She’s also in the role of looking out for Ellie who is a slow learner with possible brain damage from birth trauma. She is emotional and a step or two behind on everything. Helen enjoys “teaching Ellie lessons” which usually envolves some kind of prank or cruelty.

One day when out playing Helen decides to surprise their mother by having she and Ellie switch places just for the day.

At first it takes Ellie a bit to understand the game. But when it works out well with someone in the town who knows them they go home to do it with their mother. Only to find her new boyfriend moving in. Helen is so shocked that she doesn’t say anything about the switch and of course seeing the clothing and hairstyles their mother never suspects anything.

Helen wants the game to be over but Ellie feeling what it’s like to be in a leadership/ more powerful role does not want to switch back.

No matter how many times Helin tries to tell people she’s not Ellie no one believes her and everyone treats her as Ellie. To the point where years later she doubts that the switch really happened.

The book shifts between the past starting with the game and the present. In the present Helen is confronted with the fact that her sister has been in a car accident and is in a coma. This puts her face to face with all the people from her past that pushed her over the edge where she is now, in a disgusting apartment with no money or food and thrown around by the wims of her bipolar disorder and psychosis.

While Ellie as Helen (or as Helen puts it Hellie, a kind of warpe version of how Helen sees herself) grew up to be a TV star. But her life has not been free from hardship as she too has bipolar disorder.

As Helen navigates this present situation she faces her past childhood issues including sexual abuse, drinking and drug use, and broken relationships.

By the end of the book she has made peace with her sister, has finally let go of her family and their hold on her and is forming a life for herself.

The book portrays so well the feel of bipolar disorder, the highs where everything seems possible and the lows where just being awake is painful. The taunts of her psychotic voices are also realistic.

Though the whole people switching places and no one knowing is unrealistic, everything else is so true to form that this is soon forgotten as the switch itself was.

I highly recommend this book. Listened to the audible version.

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