Alice Kuipers seems to have a direct conduit to the teenage mind. Her young-adult novels capture the lives of regular, relatable teens without veering toward the sanitized or the cringe-inducing, so-raw-it-must-be-real pitfalls that can trip up YA writing. Her latest success is Me and Me, which offers the cinematic premise of a teen torn between saving a child she used to babysit or her almost-boyfriend, both of whom are about to drown. Lark, the teen in question, is still struggling with the grief of her mother’s passing three years earlier.
Me and Me takes a tricky and demanding plot structure – after the drowning scene, the novel follows a Sliding Doors–style “what if” double timeline – and handles it with aplomb. The book never buckles under its framework, which could easily overwhelm a lesser writer, but instead uses it to ask real questions about friendships, identity, and relationships. The two timelines knit together well and, most importantly, the necessary resolution of two different realities at the end satisfying and technically sound.
The heart of the book lies in the fallout from Lark’s choice during that horrible moment in the lake, but it is Lark’s grieving for her mother that forms the story’s emotional spine. The question “What if my life were different?” is heartbreaking when seen through the lens of a young person who has lost a parent. Indeed, it’s a terrific sleight of hand that allows Kuipers to write a book about grief that comes disguised as a fast-paced, compulsively readable novel about first love, songwriting (Lark is a singer-songwriter), and learning parkour.
Me and Me is a memorable, tough, thematically sophisticated addition to a talented YA writer’s oeuvre. Best of all, there’s an ease and confidence to it that suggests there is plenty more to come from Kuipers.