Kingston author (and frequent Q&Q contributor) Maureen Garvie’s third novel opens with an intriguing crisis: Amy, an attractive, athletic, academically inclined teen, wakes up in the hospital after a life-threatening accident. But it is not her injuries that shock her; rather, it’s the fact that she has woken up in the body of Krystal, a decidedly less attractive, rebellious girl from a broken home. Knowing she’s no longer Amy, and unhappy about being Krystal, she changes her name to Mia and sets about trying to regain her old life.
Unfortunately, while such an opening is a grabber, it presents a challenge. The main character is unhappy, and it’s difficult for a reader to warm up to a character who is moping from the start. Mia is miserable for much of the book, and is often rude or distant toward the people in her new life. Self-absorbed, even selfish, she is a tough character to like. But while not likeable, she is, at least, believable, and Garvie’s ear for teen dialogue adds credibility to Mia and the other young characters.
After half-hearted attempts to contact Amy (that is, the real Krystal, who now inhabits Amy’s old body), Mia decides not to try again until she has a plan. Curiously, after we jump ahead two years in the story, the “plan” she comes up with is simply to call Amy and ask to meet up. While the two-year gap allows Garvie to accomplish certain character developments, it’s hard to swallow that it took so long for Mia to come up with such a scheme.
Still, though the novel stumbles, it does regain its footing. When Mia and Amy/Krystal – whom Mia refers to as “K-Em” – finally meet, Garvie deftly undermines our expectations: Mia wants to return to her old life, but K-Em does not. This prompts Mia to come up with another plan – a dangerous one that we fear will end in disaster.
The absence of a likeable central character is a serious hurdle for the reader, but Garvie skillfully takes a compelling premise and works it into an engaging, well-paced plot. Amy by Any Other Name succeeds by challenging us to consider the extent to which a person is defined by their outer self.