I pulled up at school in Greg’s old truck and waved at Portia, who was just walking in. She waited for me.
‘OMG, I love it,’ Portia said, eyeing my outfit as I walked up. ‘Turn around.’
‘You like?’ I did a catwalk turn. My first-day-of-school outfit was the best New York impression I could find in the Apache mall in Rochester – a black pencil skirt and a gray twinset with my black church heels that had the pointy toes…
‘You’re so East Coast, darling.’
‘And you are totally California chic.’ I grinned at her sundress and chunky sunglasses. ‘I guess it makes sense that we’re meeting in the middle.’
Portia laughed, slung her arm through mine, and pulled me inside.
commentary: It’s no use getting too fond of Hattie Hoffman, because she is the victim in the book – there is a dual timeframe, so the story of the investigation (seen through the eyes of the sheriff) is interleaved with her own thoughts on life in the year leading up to her death, and the thoughts of another major character. All three are first person.
This is an unusual and very well-constructed book, and it catches you in unexpected corners. I don’t think anyone could predict its twists and turns, either as plot or at a deeper level in the ways the characters develop and change, and the ways our views of them change.
It is an extremely well-written book, with a level of imagination and an achieved voice that is rare in any literary work. I am, as regular readers know, not one to undervalue crime fiction compared with so-called literary fiction, but this was one book that I almost thought would work better as a novel. It’s apparent to us from early on that Hattie is a very nice person, and very well-liked, although she thinks of herself as ‘different’ from those around her (but then what teenager doesn’t?). She is sure her future must lie in New York City, far away from the small town in Minnesota where she lives, far away from the farmlands and barns and pickup trucks. She catches the eye of a High School football star, she pursues her ambitions to act, she works at the drugstore, and she goes online to research her future in New York – and to meet other potential literary, arty and theatre types.
So you can see there’s plenty of potential for things to go wrong. And they do.
The book features two of her amateur theatre productions – Jane Eyre (‘I’ll wear a grey dress with white cuffs’) and Macbeth – and it shows that she is acting all the time off-stage too: she is presenting herself to people as she thinks they want to see her. So which of her acts brought her to the barn where her life ended? How could such a thing happen to such a girl? Mindy Mejia has answers, and they may be ones that the reader disagrees with. The book is very nuanced, and makes you think hard about behaviour, and results, and responsibility. The US title of the book is Everything You Want Me to Be, and you can make a case for both UK and US choices.
It’s also a funny, warm, charming book (perhaps surprisingly), where you sympathize with all the characters to some extent. Unlike most literary teens, Hattie has a good relationship with her parents, and when her Dad talks about her dating, this is her response:
‘Did you get those convent brochures you’ve been waiting for?’ I yelled at his back and heard him chuckle.I first heard about this book over at Bernadette’s Reactions to Reading, and her conclusion was that it’s ‘an unsettling, surprising, compelling and ultimately very satisfying read’. And I agree completely.