13 January 2012

I'm Not Her by Janet Gurtler

I'm Not Her
Janet Gurtler

I read a review or two of this book, put it on hold and waited for about two months to get it.  Usually, that's a sign of a really good book.  By the time I got the book, I'd completely forgotten about it.  When I read the description, I almost turned it back in without reading it.  I couldn't remember why people had said it was soooo great.  And now that I've read it, even I can't necessarily put my finger on why it's soooo great.  But it is.
Maybe I love the book so much because I feel like Tess is me and her perfect, athletic sister is my sister Nikki.  Tess likes herself just the way she is, and though Kristina is pretty content lets her be herself, she also encourages Tess to be a bit more social.  I think that's how things were (and probably still are) with Nikki and I.  Granted, my sister never had to encourage me to be social.  But I was (and still am) awkward, especially when you put me next to my tall, stunning sister.  I might not be shy, but when Nikki walks into a room, you can't help but notice her (I just make people notice me by being loud and often somewhat obnoxious.  I prefer the term charming, but whatever).
The twist of the book comes when Kristina is diagnosed with bone cancer.  All of a sudden her popularity weaves its way into Tess' life, and Tess likes it and hates it.  Tess has always been somewhat invisible in her sister’s shadow, and not just to Kristina’s friends, but also to her parents.  Suddenly, Kristina’s friends – who couldn’t be bothered to notice Tess before – are constantly around wondering why Kristina won’t return their calls, and her parents expect Tess to “be strong” even when they refuse to deal with the situation themselves.  Throughout the book Tess is completely torn between being angry that her sister’s situation has upended her life and dealing with the horror and the sadness she feels about her sister having such a devastating form of cancer.
I love that Gurtler made the parents fallible but not self-absorbed.  The parents have faults, and up until their daughter was diagnosed with cancer, they were able to cover those faults with style or academia.  When faced with the dilemma of their daughter’s illness, they don’t know how to cope with the reality of the situation or the emotions that come along with knowing their lives aren’t perfect and their perfect athlete daughter might end up an amputee.  I also love that Tess was not only mature and level headed, able to step in and be the adult when her parents were unable/unwilling, but also a girly teenager, completely controlled by her hormones.  Tess struggles to balance school – she really wants to be one of the freshmen chosen for National Honor Society, her friend(s) – including her former best friend and the multiple boys who now notice she exists and her parents – whose habit of turning a blind eye and acting like all is normal are not only affecting their relationship, but Tess’ grades and Krisina’s recovery.
In the end I know that my life and my relationship with my sister (and my entire family) is very different from Tess’, though I probably felt a lot like she did when I was a freshman in high school. The bond that Tess felt with her sister and the way it grew and evolved throughout the book was pretty close to the relationship I had with my sister:  we were different and we frustrated the heck out of each other, but it was in high school that we learned to talk to each other, confide in each other and value each other for our differences.

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