Release Date: Sept. 6, 2016
Leah Lobermier is not ninety-three pounds. She’s not blonde. She doesn’t live in a nice home with two parents who love her. She’s not popular.
Leah’s “friend” Kristy Baker is all of those things. When an older man gives Leah his number to give to Kristy, Leah calls him and begins a lie that will put both her and Kristy in danger.
SOMEONE I WANTED TO BE has the makings of a poignant, gripping novel. It just doesn’t quite achieve what it sets out to do.
To talk about the novel, I have to talk about the end first (staying spoiler free of course!) because the novel doesn’t really find it’s footing until about halfway through. It’s as if the author was unsure of where she wanted to go with the story and then figured it out a few chapters in. The characters begin to become fleshed out. The writing style becomes less stagnant and more comfortable.
Some of the supporting characters become more present as the novel progresses—Corinne, Carl, and Anita are some of the best features of the story. They’re original and colorful characters, and they improve some of the weaker points of the book. Corinne gives complexity to the “popular girl” trope. Anita offers a comparison to Leah that shows how two different people in similar situations can deal with that in radically different ways. She and Carl offer characters to like in a cast that’s not particularly likeable. Carl is also such a genuine, sweet character that it would difficult not to enjoy reading about him.
There are some really excellent moments of description. One of the most vivid paragraphs in the entire novel is when Leah describes her mom:
“When Cindy was passed out, she reminded me of an old Barbie. A Barbie you find in the back of a closet or at the bottom of a box, a Barbie you haven’t seen since you were four. Her head’s twisted backward, her hair is a fuzzy mess and half of it’s gone, and she’s marked all over with ballpoint pen and permanent marker. Nothing is sadder than an old Barbie with her tiny hard feet and her faded eyebrows and blue eyes.”
There are other scenes when Leah is talking about Kristy’s dad, her English teacher, or her complex relationship with Kristy. There a lines that grasp at the tragedy of magazine and diet culture or the horribleness that can be high school.
For those positive aspects, there were multiple times I struggled to keep reading. This book was not at all what I expected. From its summary, I thought I would be reading a psychological thriller along the lines of PRETTY LITTLE LIARS or GONE GIRL. SOMEONE I WANTED TO BE is more comparable to MY MAD FAT DIARY or even GLEE. The phone number and the man Leah talks on the phone to—Kurt King—often feel like a secondary plot.
The biggest problems with the novel occur in the beginning because the first few chapters stumble along. The characters feel like caricatures, and the writing is disjointed and at times uncomfortable. It becomes a much better story and the writing becomes more stable, but not until well into the novel.
For example, as the narrator, Leah’s voice lacks coherence. I didn’t have a good sense of her as a character until well into the novel. In general, the characters were overblown. With the high school clichés and cliques, I felt like I was having flashbacks to the scene in MEAN GIRLS when that guy explains the seating arrangement to Lindsay Lohan. I often felt like I wasn’t reading about characters but an over-drawn version of high school stereotypes. They just weren’t as tangible and real as I wish they had been.
However, by the end, I was curious about the conclusion, and I wanted to know what happened, especially to Corinne, Anita, and Carl. In a novel that I was initially disappointed with, the novel improved exponentially, and the end was a fulfilling conclusion.
Thanks to Candlewick Press, who gave me an advanced copy in return for an honest review!