Kaeleigh and Raeanne are identical twins, 16 years old, mirror images; physically alike but in personality very different. They are half of a deeply dysfunctional family. Their mother, a politician running for office in Washington, has left them in every way possible; their father, a judge, numbs himself with whiskey and pills before coming to one daughter's bed while the other alternately hates him for it and longs for his love.
Kaeleigh, soft-centered, binges and cuts herself, can't feel worthy of the young man who loves her; and finds her only common ground with an 80-year-old woman who lives in the residential center where she works part-time. Raeanne, on the other hand, is tough and cold, has sex with dangerous boys for drugs, steals booze and oxy from her father, and purges to free herself from the venom of her past.
The unbearable events that poison the twins' present are rooted in the past, but just how far back? The car accident when they were eight years old, or further back in their parents' youth? The foreshadowing is woven through the present story, and even if the reader glimpses the truth before full disclosure, the book's worth rests not in its revelation but in the escalation of pain resulting from the family history.
I had not read any earlier books by author Ellen Hopkins so I was unprepared for the highly original design concept of this book. Done entirely in free verse in the alternating voices of the sisters, the words on the page are arranged in patterns that reflect the tone of the story. Letters, hearts, teardrops; tight intense verses; jagged word explosions on the page; and most interesting of all, where the story transitions from one twin to the other, the words on the facing pages mesh together like the teeth of a zipper. I found it literally impossible to put this book down and read it in one long session. The originality of design hooked me, but the intensity of the story delivered a punch that will stay with me for a long time.
In publisher-speak, the category "Young Adult" refers to readers approximately 12 to 18 years old. Identical
would be better suited for the more mature reader toward the upper end of that range, having explicit scenes involving sex, alcohol and drug abuse, purging and cutting. Any adult wanting to understand the pressures and realities of teen life will find this book enlightening, and for everyone else it's a fast, riveting read; dark, but beautifully paced and crackling with painful truth. Five stars at least.
Linda Bulger, 2008