In The Opposite of Me, my main character, Lindsey Rose, is struggling to maintain her own identity – not an easy thing to do, when you have a twin sister like Lindsey’s. Their backstory – the years they spent growing up together, when Lindsey’s twin Alex constantly attracted attention for her looks – informs not only Lindsey’s actions as an adult, but also contributes heavily to her sense of self. Lindsey doesn’t believe she’s beautiful, because no one ever notices her when Alex is around. As The Washington Post wrote in its review, “Lindsey learned early to flex her brain as a foil to Alex’s beauty.”
There’s a flashback in my novel (actually, there are a few, but this one is particularly meaningful to Lindsey): The two sisters are about five years old and are getting a reward for enduring immunization shots at the doctor’s office. As they gobble down good, greasy, crinkle-cut fries, an old woman walks by their table. Lindsey is transfixed: The woman looks just like the witch in her Snow White book, and she’s even dressed all in black. The woman puts a blue-veined hand on Lindsey’s head, and says in a raspy voice, “Too bad this one doesn’t look like her sister.”
My book has been out for less than a month, but I’ve already gotten notes from a few readers who’ve said scenes like that one hit painfully home for them. One reader, who has a gorgeous sister, said her uncle made a similar comment that still resonates in her mind. It’s hard to stomach the thought of someone treating a child – or an adult for that matter – so cruelly. But what’s fascinating to me is how our individual backstories affect each one of us, stretching far into our futures and even shaping them. In every family, there seem to be labels, either spoken or quietly assumed: One kid might be the “smart one” (that’s my character Lindsey), and someone else might be the “drama queen.” There’s the responsible one, the baby of the family, the screw-up…. And how is it that as adults, we can go out and reinvent ourselves, yet when we’re around our families, we tend to get dragged back into those roles? The idea that we get assigned labels while we’re young, and those labels may not accurately reflect who we are inside is a central theme in my novel, and I’m glad to see it resonating for readers.
As a parent of three young boys, I’m trying to be careful to avoid comparing them. But I can see the temptation: They each have unique gifts, and focusing on those gifts is an easy way to sum them up to acquaintances. And yet, I know even if I mention a positive quality for each one of them, it might diminish those same qualities in their brothers. So I hope my kids know I think they’re all the smart one. And the funny one. And the athletic one. Secretly, though, I think of them all as the just-about-perfect one.