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I'll Be You


I'll Be You

Janelle Brown, the author of WATCH ME DISAPPEAR and PRETTY LITTLE THINGS, returns with a thought-provoking and gripping novel of domestic suspense about the bonds of sisterhood and the allure of hope.

Anyone who has seen The Parent Trap or watched a sitcom featuring twins is familiar with the game: “I’ll be you and you be me.” But in I’LL BE YOU, identical twins Sam and Elli take this prank to the next level, swapping places first as overworked tween actresses and then as teenage stars, each time with far-reaching consequences. Blonde-haired and blue-eyed, the girls were scouted by an agent at a young age, co-starring as a detective’s daughter on a police drama, and later acting as separated-at-birth, reunited-at-high-school twins in a hit teen sitcom.

But while Sam quickly took to Hollywood --- and the party-girl lifestyle --- quiet, perfectionist Elli always dreamed of living a normal life full of sororities, a handsome husband and, eventually, children. Although the girls knew each other inside and out and could easily adapt each other’s personality and manners, every time they saw themselves through the other’s eyes, the competition, jealousy and distance between them deepened. The pain took its toll on their personal lives.

"Sharply insightful, relentlessly suspenseful and simply unputdownable, I’LL BE YOU is Janelle Brown’s best novel yet. This powerful portrayal of the bonds of familial love and the allure of empowerment is perfect for readers of Laura Dave, Carola Lovering and Julie Clark."

Now grown women, Sam and Elli have been estranged for over a year, their relationship fractured by Sam’s addictions and Elli’s obsession with perfection. Then one day, Sam gets a call that her perfect sister has taken off on a wellness retreat, leaving her brand-new adopted daughter with their parents and very few details about her whereabouts. Sam’s parents are wary of trusting their newly sober daughter, but they’re getting on in years and they need help keeping up with Elli’s rambunctious (and very fast) toddler. Sam is shocked to hear that Elli adopted a child without reaching out to her, but she is even more taken aback when she learns what else has been going on in her sister’s life.

Elli’s husband, Chuck, left her only a few weeks before the arrival of their daughter, and she has seemingly taken up with a women’s empowerment group, GenFem, since then. Anyone could use a break after going through so many changes, but leaving so suddenly with so few details is decidedly not like Elli. As Sam digs deeper, she is forced to confront some difficult chapters of their lives --- twin switchery, teenage manipulation and adult betrayal --- as well as her own sobriety journey to figure out what the last year of Elli’s life has been like, where she really is, and whether or not she’s there by choice.

As Sam bonds with her niece, tiptoes over triggers (her mother in particular loves a barbed comment or three), attends AA meetings and investigates her sister’s disappearance, she learns that Elli has not only found community in GenFem but has seemingly given over a huge chunk of her finances as well. With sparse details on GenFem’s website, a strangely cold front office where no one seems to have heard of Elli, and a mysterious binder detailing huge sums Elli paid toward “enlightenment,” it doesn’t take a real detective, or even a sober one, to think that GenFem sounds a bit…culty.

So how did Elli --- the perfect twin, the one who made up for every one of Sam’s failings --- end up in this position? To find out, Sam will have to resume her greatest role yet, assuming Elli’s identity and entering the gated walls of GenFem’s top-tier retreat. But what she finds there may answer questions not only about Elli’s whereabouts, but about their crumbling relationship…and how they can save it.

I don’t need to explain why Janelle Brown had me at “missing sister” and “possible cult,” but anyone who has read her previous books knows that she could write an intricate, compelling mystery with her eyes closed and her hands tied behind her back. As she proves yet again in I’LL BE YOU, she’s far more than a suspense writer. She is equally, if not more, adept at digging right into the heart of some of our most complicated relationships --- and on top of that, she’s a terrific storyteller. As Brown unpacks the relationship between Sam and Elli, she paints incisive, provocative portraits of the girls. Sam’s sobriety, written with a deep compassion and understanding of addiction, forms a searing undercurrent of the book, at times even taking the foreground. At the same time, Elli’s admiration and fear of Sam push her again and again to her breaking point, even as she strives to maintain her perfect facade.

As Brown shows, there’s not much difference between the hope Sam finds in AA meetings and the transcendence Elli seeks through GenFem. Both are indicative of the lowest lows the women have ever faced, and both offer them the freedom of letting go and feeling seen. Though the identical twins may seem like polar opposites, Brown successfully unpacks even their most contrary actions to expose the twin desires behind them. On top of that, she uses the perspective of each sister to show how easily disaster can be reframed as triumph, and what it costs you when this edifice of lies crumbles.

Sharply insightful, relentlessly suspenseful and simply unputdownable, I’LL BE YOU is Janelle Brown’s best novel yet. This powerful portrayal of the bonds of familial love and the allure of empowerment is perfect for readers of Laura Dave, Carola Lovering and Julie Clark.

Reviewed by Rebecca Munro on April 29, 2022

I'll Be You
by Janelle Brown