Book Review: The Twin by Natasha Preston

*This review contains some mild, non-specific spoilers.

The Twin by Natasha Preston is a dark teen novel published in March 2020. My local Barnes & Noble in Shelby Twp, Michigan had signed copies sitting out on a table in the YA section, and the opening pages intrigued me, so I purchased it. With the creepy-twin trope, I thought I was getting a Similars/Pretenders type of deal, maybe with a touch of Without Curtains, because the cool, easy writing style reminded me of Holly M. Campbell. But readers should beware: This story does NOT end happily for our heroine.

Now, I’m all about not spoiling, but I do think readers should know what genre they’re reading — especially if, like in my case, they think they’ll be reading one type of book when it’s not that. Admittedly, I was expecting a run-of-the-mill YA suspense/thriller, in which the heroine must solve the puzzle, then put in the fight of her life to emerge victorious. The Twin is not that story. It’s a horror tragedy. So, respecting it for the genre it is, I’m not going to complain about the ending. I’m just defining the genre so that readers know what to expect.

The Twin is the haunting tale of Ivy and Iris, two estranged, sixteen-year-old twin sisters. In a Parent Trap type of way, Mom took one twin and Dad took the other when they divorced. Now, they’re brought back together upon the mysterious death of their mother. Right off, Mom’s death sounds sketchy and I suspected foul play. Ivy, the narrator, is trying to adjust to the death of her mother, and to her twin sister moving in with her and their dad. She otherwise had a good life going for her: straight-A student, fastest swimmer on the team, a great boyfriend who plays football, a tight-knit trio of BFFs. The only issues Ivy suffers from is general anxiety and overthinking, traits I found to be very relatable and refreshing.

Meanwhile, her twin, Iris, is clearly a sociopath. It’s obvious from the get-go in her behavior that she isn’t even mourning their mom, but Ivy keeps trying to give her the benefit of the doubt. “Everyone grieves differently,” as they say. But then Iris starts to cross boundaries to make Ivy’s life a living hell. One by one, Iris subtly manipulates Ivy’s friends, teachers, and father against Ivy. When Ivy begins to realize what’s happening, it’s too late because Iris keeps gaslighting her and causing everyone else to question Ivy’s sanity.

The story is overall a chilling, addicting, and well-written read. My only quibble with the writing itself is that the characters say they’re American, but the editor forgot to change out some of the author’ British English. (E.g. I caught many instances of “footpath” instead of sidewalk, referring to a public restroom as “the toilet,” phrasing such as “on the phone to” instead of “on the phone with,” and other details that didn’t sound authentic coming from a supposedly American narrator.) I also think the book could’ve stood to have an actual, defined setting — the author never names where the story takes place, just says ‘the country’ and ‘the city’ — and that, too, took me out of the narrative, because a well-researched setting should be like another character in the book. It just seemed like a missed opportunity to add a layer of atmosphere, make the story feel more real to the reader, and set the tone overall. These may be aspects, however, that only a writer would notice or mind.

For anyone who enjoys teen YA blended with a solid, unraveling suspense and doesn’t mind dark outcomes, The Twin is an intriguing page-turner for a lazy afternoon. I would read more by this author.

Book Review: Fight Club by Chuck Palahniuk

fight-club-book-coverFight Club is classified as a satirical novel; it’s a dark comedy. I will admit many parts are laugh-out-loud funny. But it’s really a literary novel. We start with a nameless narrator, who’s bouncing all over the place, talking about explosives, death, support groups, and his job, which he hates. He works for a generic car company, a typical nine-to-five. In the evenings, he attends support groups for people who are dying of cancer. In some twisted way, the only way he feels alive is to be so close to death. Our narrator describes the emptiness of American mass-consumerism, and the futility of owning and acquiring things, like clothes and furniture. He feels trapped by his perfect life, his simple job, and all of his possessions, which he feels own him, rather than the other way around.

He loses sleep, obsessing over this, until he meets Tyler Durden. Tyler works odd jobs at night, and his goal is chaos. Like the Joker from Batman, he’s an undercover social deviant. At first, he works as a waiter, urinating in customers’ soup. But as the book progresses, Tyler’s actions get darker, violent, more frightening. We also have a prominent lady character, Marla Singer, who’s just as eccentric as Tyler, and whom our narrator has met through the support groups. He instantly hates her.

After the narrator blows up his own apartment, destroying his possessions to be free of them, he and Tyler begin the Fight Club. It evolves into a monster organization of men aiming to breed destruction and chaos over the nation— and of course, beat one another to a pulp. It’s a response to— or a method of escaping— the controlled, confined matrix in which society lives, to point out the petty uselessness of the civilized daily grind that masks and suppresses authentic human instincts.

What makes this novel so interesting is that, crazy as the narrator is, we all can empathize, can relate to that moment of questioning our first-world, cookie cutter lives, realizing that on some level, it’s an illusion. Palahniuk also evokes the question of the need for violence. Personally, violence is not a big part of my life. But I understand that, on a primal level, it is part of every person’s survival instinct, and of the human experience. The idea in Fight Club is that violence is an important thread in the human make-up, which civilized society has tried to restrain, but which cannot and should not be denied.

Fight Club is original and evocative. It will take you on a wild ride and make you think.

Book Review: The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger

catcherThe Catcher in the Rye (1951) by J. D. Salinger is one of my all-time favorite novels for more reasons than one. First, it’s impossible to put down. The eccentric narration by Holden Caulfield is conversational and comical, despite the more serious undertones to the novel. Second, the character development, symbolism, and approach to deeper, psychological issues makes this a refreshingly more cerebral read than something merely plot-based. I love this book and would read it again.

Book Review: I Am the Cheese by Robert Cormier

iamcheeseRequired reading in 9th grade: a bizarre but original book where the reader has to figure out what’s going on. It jumps between therapy transcripts, to a boy’s memories, to present narration of the same boy riding his bike all over the place. In the end, things come together to a dark and unforgettable finish.

The cheese stands alone, the cheese stands alone…