Source: ARC from ALA
Published: September 28, 2015
Sixteen-year-old Giselle Boyer and her identical twin, Isabelle, are as close as sisters can be. They are each other’s strongest source of support even as their family life seems to be unraveling and their parents are considering divorce. Then the Boyers have a tragic encounter that will shatter everyone’s world forever.
Giselle wakes up in a hospital room, injured and unable to speak or move. She doesn’t know what’s happened to her sister, to her family, to herself. Trapped in the prison of her own body, Giselle must revisit her past in order to understand how the people closest to her—her friends, her parents, and above all, Isabelle—have shaped and defined her. Will she allow her love for her family and friends to buoy her and lead her on the path to recovery? Or will she remain lost in a painful spiral of longing and regret?
Comparisons to Gayle Forman’s If I Stay are inevitable, so I’ll get mine out of the way: Both books are about a teenage girl who has been injured in a car accident and is subsequently in a state somewhere between conscious and unconscious in the hospital. Both girls fall back into memories of their lives and ponder how they got to where they are, and where their lives will go once they choose to wake up and leave the hospital. One of the key differences, I think, is that Mia from If I Stay focuses on her romantic relationship with her boyfriend Adam, while Giselle focuses on her family relationships. Danticat makes me buy into Giselle’s family, and I personally believe Untwine is the more engaging book.
I had my doubts, I admit. I’ve written about why I hate most literary twins, and Danticat has made some comments about twins always seeming “mystical” to her that had me heaving frustrated sighs before I ever picked up Untwine. However, I actually found the portrayal of the twins to be quite thoughtful, after a few bumpy bits at the start. (I mean, Giselle’s parents go out of their way to never make her and Isabelle never wear matching clothes, but still give them cutesy rhyming names? Ok…) By the end, however, I was really on board with how Danticat portrays the relationship between Giselle and Isabelle, and I think she also hits the nail on the head with the way other characters relate to Giselle after the accident.
Untwine also seeks to differentiate itself from If I Stay by adding a bit of a mystery: the police are not entirely sure that the car accident in which Giselle’s family was injured was actually accident. So part of the plot is about investigating this issue, tracking down the driver at fault and such. Personally, I thought the treatment of this was a little too brief; it seemed like something tacked onto the plot rather than a real part of it. Expanding on it might have improved the structure of the book, though I liked the the concept of the mystery as a way to move the book a bit beyond Giselle’s own head.
Untwine offers a thoughtful take on family and dealing with grief. I think reading it back-to-back with If I Stay might be a yawn-worthy experience because they are in the same in many ways. However, if you have never read If I Stay or have put enough time/distance between reading the two books, you should enjoy this one.