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The Other Mother


The Other Mother

Fourteen-year-old Michael Parsons has secrets, and they are big ones. The first is mundane but important: He is in love with his new neighbor, Sarah Flaherty. The second is the truth about his father’s death several years earlier, and the proof is in a yellow envelope hidden under his mattress. The third and most immediate is that his mother is missing and has been replaced by an exact replica: another mother. In his compelling new novel, THE OTHER MOTHER, Matthew Dicks shares a few days in the life of a boy struggling with mental illness while experiencing the bittersweet emotions of growing up.

Michael’s reputation at school is terrible. Since elementary school, he has had violent and angry outbursts. However, medication and the three hours a week he spends with his counselor, Mrs. Newfang, help. Some of her calming strategies have worked to deescalate his dangerous responses, but mostly, it is their relationship of trust and care that has been beneficial to him.

"...a readable and brisk coming-of-age novel... This is an absorbing, sympathetic and, at times, frightening look at secrets and revelations, and growing up with trauma and with love."

At home, Michael is a loving and responsible brother, caring for his younger siblings, Julia and Charlie. Charlie is a fragile and introverted bookworm, and Julia is tough, sweet and wise beyond her years. Michael’s mother, Pauline, works extra nursing shifts to support the family. He attributes their troubled finances, not to mention the lack of peace in the household, to his lazy stepfather, Glen. After meeting a childhood friend of his father’s, in whom Sarah seems to have taken an interest, and as an ill-conceived plan to attack a teacher all come together, Michael wakes up one morning convinced that his mother is not his mother but instead is an imposter fooling everyone but him.

Michael is terrified of the possibility that his mother is lost and has been replaced. He is confused, astonished, sad and angry all at once. Until he decides on a course of action, he must pretend that everything is okay and go about his normal life. But his normal life turns out to be extraordinary in a number of ways: He spends time with Sarah, learns more about his father, finds solace in Mrs. Newfang’s office, and even becomes a school hero.

Much of THE OTHER MOTHER is about the grief that Michael continues to experience after his father’s death. The contents of the yellow envelope, which he has kept secret for years, means that his mourning has not progressed, and he has been burdened with a terrible truth. He mourns not just the loss of life, but also the loss of his father’s memories and the answers to the questions he will never be able to ask him. When he meets his father’s childhood friend, he gains just a glimpse of the kid his father was and an unexpectedly safe shoulder to cry on.

Just as some secrets are constricting and harmful, some are expansive, revealing and part of growing up. When Sarah pulls off her T-shirt to reveal her bathing-suit top, it seems to Michael “like a secret corner of the world unfolded and made the universe ten times bigger.” These heart-swelling moments are crafted with pitch-perfect honesty and tenderness, but they are never saccharine. It is Sarah, a brave character struggling with her own familial problems, who thinks about a logical explanation for Michael’s other mother problem. She suggests he is suffering from Capgras syndrome, a delusion in which one believes that another person has been replaced by a replica or an imposter. Rejecting this diagnosis, Michael plans to confront the other mother and shed light on this mystery, by force if necessary.

THE OTHER MOTHER is a readable and brisk coming-of-age novel, and Michael is a fascinating character (Julia is also particularly well written). While the abrupt ending may leave readers wondering, it is quite enjoyable while it lasts. This is an absorbing, sympathetic and, at times, frightening look at secrets and revelations, and growing up with trauma and with love.

Reviewed by Sarah Rachel Egelman on January 22, 2021

The Other Mother
by Matthew Dicks

  • Publication Date: January 12, 2021
  • Genres: Fiction
  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: St. Martin's Press
  • ISBN-10: 1250103460
  • ISBN-13: 9781250103468