Who I’m Not takes off like a rocket and continues its upward trajectory right to the very last page. The book opens with a cocky teenage narrator telling readers who he isn’t, while running a money-making con in a shopping mall with his partner in crime.
Who he is proves a trickier question. Our narrator has been in so many foster homes since birth he has forgotten his real name and birthday, and figures they’re irrelevant anyway. All he knows is that his current life as a con man’s apprentice is the best situation he’s ever been in.
When his mentor suddenly dies, the teen knows he’ll do anything to avoid going back into foster care. Seeing a notice about a missing boy, he decides in a moment of panic to impersonate him. He is flown from California to Port Hope, Ontario, where he desperately tries to pass himself off as Danny Dellomondo to the missing boy’s family, who haven’t seen the real Danny in years. When the Dellomondo clan accepts him, poseur Danny discovers he may not be the only one living a lie. (The novel is based on the true story of a runaway who posed as a missing child, unwittingly stumbling upon his new family’s dark secrets in the process.)
There’s just enough detail about the con-man lifestyle to make “Danny” believable, and author Ted Staunton deftly handles the grim realities of Danny’s foster-care experiences without steering the story into misery-memoir territory. Danny himself is fantastically constructed, his typical teen bravado complicated by trauma and deep-seated fears. He’s not a hero, and yet – or perhaps because of that – readers are firmly on his side from the beginning.
Given its cinematic quality, dead-on dialogue, and rollicking pace, Who I’m Not is a perfect choice for reluctant readers. This book is a knockout, and that’s no con.