Monday, October 05, 2015

Trust No One, Not Even Yourself: We'll Never Be Apart by Emiko Jean

I found Cellie crouched in the backyard, a pile of wadded newspapers and dry grass at her feet. A book of matches was in her hand.

"Don't, Cellie." Jason went and stood by her side. "I don't want this," I said to him. He looked baffled.

"What about what he did to us? Don't you still see Roman in your dreams?" he said to me.

"What he did to us was awful. But this isn't the way, Jason. We have to forgive, to forget, to move on. You don't want to do this. I know it. This isn't you."

His upper lip curled. "You don't know shit about me." Cellie struck her match first, inhaling deeply at the explosion of sulfur. She handed the matchbook to Jason and he struck one as well.

"Please," I begged. But they didn't listen. Together they held the matches aloft and dropped them.

Alice Monroe is found by her neighbor on her third birthday, in the house where her grandfather had been dead for three days. Alice is left, with her twin Celia, to stay with the next-door neighbors, while the police search for relatives. But Alice watches, frightened, as her sister sets fires and becomes violent, and soon they are taken away from the kindly Mr. and Mrs. Chan and sent to a succession of temporary foster parents and group homes, until, with a boy named Jason, they become the virtual prisoners of the cruel Roman, who rousts them from sleep to beat them almost nightly. Eventually they are removed from Roman's custody, but Jason's desire for revenge only grows stronger as they grow older.

And when they are arrested for Roman's death in the fire, Alice and Cellie are sent to Savage Isle, an institution for mentally disturbed teens. Out on bail and waiting his trial, Jason finds a way to help them escape and takes them to hide out in an abandoned country barn. But jealous of Alice's closeness with Jason, Cellie throws a lighted lantern into the bales of hay in the loft, and Jason dies in the fire. Alice survives and sees herself and Cellie returned to Savage Isle.

Charged with arson and with Jason's murder, Alice is on probation with the general patient population, but when her twin seems not to be there, Alice assumes she is confined to D Ward, the section for seriously disturbed patients. She becomes convinced that she will never be free as long as her sister is alive, and forms a close relationship with Chase, who agrees to help her get into D Ward to find her twin without knowing that Alice is planning her murder. But as Alice comes to love and perhaps trust Chase, her will to kill begins to fade.

Emiko Jean's Gothic thriller, We'll Never Be Apart (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2015) has the taut immediacy of relationships of, say, one of John Green's famous teen novels, heightened by the psyche-destroying circumstances of Alice's ruined childhood. But just as Alice's fear and hate for her evil twin seems to losing its power over her, she discovers her own medical file hidden in Chase's room, and she learns the truth about herself that she has never understood.

This is an absorbing story of sad realities and compelling fantasies, but where author Jean works her writerly magic is in the way she uses dualities--Alice's first person narrative of events as they occur, her journal's remembrances of those events, and the dimly glimpsed truth, the fiction within a fiction, that takes readers into Alice's psychotic delusions so convincingly that we too are shaken by the sudden revelation of Alice's dual selves and left off-balance by the novel's ambiguous ending--both of them. It's quite a tour de force, a searing young adult novel that is hard to forget.

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