Review of You Again by Debra Jo Immergut

Abigail Willard first spots her from the back of a New York cab: the spitting image of Abby herself at age twenty-two—right down to the silver platforms and raspberry coat she wore as a young artist with a taste for wildness. But the real Abby is now forty-six and married, with a corporate job and two kids. As the girl vanishes into a rainy night, Abby is left shaken. Was this merely a hallucinatory side effect of working-mom stress? A message of sorts, sent to remind her of passions and dreams tossed aside? Or something more dangerous?
As weeks go by, Abby continues to spot her double around her old New York haunts—and soon, despite her better instincts, Abby finds herself tailing her look-alike. She is dogged by a nagging suspicion that there is a deeper mystery to figure out, one rooted far in her past. All the while, Abby’s life starts to slip from her control: her marriage hits major turbulence, her teenage son drifts into a radical movement that portends a dark coming era. When her elusive double presents her with a dangerous proposition, Abby must decide how much she values the life she’s built, and how deeply she knows herself.

I’m feeling more and more drawn of late to books where protagonists are a similar age to myself, and whilst I’ll always love my squads of teen misfits, I can feel a definite shift. So when the synopsis for You Again arrived I felt excited, especially as it sounded like a psychological thriller. However, the printed sticker with a quote from Glamour Magazine on the front made me worry that this was more women’s fiction territory, but what I read though, was a mix of the two.

At just over 300 pages I found this to actually be quite a quick read (I read it in a day,) and actually, it really shouldn’t have been. This story is layered and complex, yet the author didn’t really explore the issues deeply, to a degree it felt a little shallow with Abbey just flitting around, somewhat selfishly at times. However, it was strangely captivating and I felt I just had to keep reading being pulled along by a thread of interwoven case notes and emails suggesting that all is not what it seems.

The writing was clever and humorous at times, I counted several nods to Bob Ross which made me smile. Despite me not really liking Abbey as a character much, I could empathise with her situation to a degree, and when she started to come into contact with her former self the story had an uncanny way of almost frizzing, there was definitely a great tension in the air but almost childlike with curiosity too. The author had a great way of writing a scene which could equally be of a woman having a mental health episode or that of a tangible experience being witnessed by others, and so as a reader I was left feeling out of sorts and always second guessing. Where the writing did fall down for me was not all conversation was quoted, so I was left sometimes confused by what was outward speech and what was inner monologue, this was also compounded by the fact that it often happened in the shared space between Abbey and her former self.

There is an interesting side story involving Abbey’s son which I actually found upsetting in that she was clearly being taken advantage of in the situation, and that there were a number of potential ties to her own experiences with her former self which could also have explained a number of incidents. Everything is wonderfully interwoven with seemingly innocuous moments part of a bigger chain, although there are many times where I felt things were too far removed from the middle class family unit we were presented with, and honestly how Abbey never got the sack is beyond me – was she ever there? I would have enjoyed more of the case notes and emails being within the earlier parts, I think knowing what I now know from the end, I would have enjoyed the story more. That level of understanding tying things together to make it a more cohesive story, I think on  a re-read this book would take on a whole new dimension.

Summing up, I did enjoy You Again, it wasn’t what I expected at all and I’m still trying to place it into a genre. It has elements of so many, even a touch of sci-fi – but just a touch. It’t an interesting narrative with many introspective moments but I felt it was messily executed at times. Thank you to Titan Books for the review copy.

3*

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