Have you ever felt overshadowed by someone close to you? Have you ever wished you were born different – more attractive, smarter, easier to talk to? Now imagine if there was another person in the world who looked exactly like you but they were the better version of you in every single way. That is the story of Adam.
Adam and Aaron were born twins but apart from the DNA they share there is very little they have in common. While Aaron is the most popular boy at school, Adam is one of the geeks that everyone mocks. While Aaron is confident, outspoken, cocky, a go-getter, Adam is quiet, shy, insecure, an introvert. While Aaron can have any girl he sets eyes on, Adam has never even kissed a girl. But this is not just a story of opposites and the ‘rise of the underdog’, this is a story of self-discovery, of family bonds, of finding one’s voice and going after what we truly want in life. Aaron and Adam cannot be simply dismissed as ‘too different to have anything in common’ – their bond as twins and ultimately as brothers makes their story even more complex and touching. Adam’s desire to be like his brother is not one of hateful envy. As opposite as they are, they are always there for each other, knowing exactly what the other needs, quietly supporting one another no matter what.
“… it always seemed to hurt when I thought about how different I was from Aaron. My desire to be like him physically, emotionally, and mentally was causing me to respond this way.”
And then a girl named Olivia moves into the house next door. Adam sees her from his bedroom window and is immediately drawn to this beautiful girl who dances freely in her room like no one is watching – “She looked free.” Her openness, her confidence, her ability to talk to anyone and make everyone around her feel confortable make him want to spend every second of every day around her. Olivia’s perky but compassionate personality draws Adam out of his shell, giving him courage to be himself. He allows her to enter his solitary world and pull him out of it without judgement or any desire to change him, simply by accepting him for who he is and supporting the things he is passionate about. For the first time in Adam’s young life he does not feel invisible.
“Even my twin brother had never had the inclination to figure me out like Olivia had done.”
They quickly develop a genuine friendship, something Adam has never had with a girl, a friendship that for Adam turns into his first real crush. Unfortunately, Aaron has also noticed Olivia and he is just as drawn to her as his brother is. He gives Adam a chance to make the first move but Adam’s insecurities end up paralysing him and he loses his chance with her.
“You can like any girl you want,” he said, “but unless you’re going to go for it, there’s no way in hell I’m going to sit back and pretend that I don’t like her, too. See? This is the difference between us. You’re all theory. You say, ‘I like her’, but do nothing about it. And I’m the proven fact. I say, ‘I like her’, and I act on it.”
What follows is an utterly heart-wrenching account of what it feels like to think you are “worthless and unworthy”, inadequate, not special enough to be wanted or ever chosen by someone over your own brother. We only ever hear Adam’s voice in this story. His heartbreak over watching the girl he loves in the arms of the one person who makes him feel less worthy is one of the most intense emotions I have felt in a long time from reading a book. Adam’s tone is steady, matter-of-factly, his every self-flagellating thought or word stings us powerfully – the author is a masterful storyteller who consistently takes good aim and she never misses the target.
“I was nothing more than a pile of regretful nothingness.”
But do not be mistaken by thinking this is your ‘garden-variety’ love triangle because there is nothing common about this beautiful book. By telling the story from the point of view of the ‘underdog’, we are not being entertained by frivolous alpha male pissing-contests; we are given a real situation with real people and real heartbreak. Adam’s ‘competition’ is his twin brother and as complicated as their relationship has become over the years, they will always be brothers and this unbreakable bond between them plays an important part in the story itself. There are no ‘bad guys’ here, there are no right or wrong decisions made by the characters – this is not a story of conflict, this is a story of human connections and of living life to its fullest without any regrets. This is also an incredibly romantic story about falling in love for the first time.
There are parts of this tale that are so touching and so deeply emotional that you would need to tear your heart out of your chest in order not to feel anything, but it all serves a purpose. Every page, every word, every character counts. This book needed all its elements, happy or sad, to faithfully and truthfully tell Adam’s story. His depth of emotion, the rawness and the reality of each one of its parts made me a very invested and fiercely protective observer. There were scenes that made my heart clench, some that literally made me a sobbing puddle of mess, and others that quite simply obliterated me, but there was never even a split second where I did not enjoy reading this book.
“Life’s too short to get stuck. I don’t have time to wallow in despair. I felt my feelings. I cried my tears, and now I’m ready to get on with it all.”
This story was a deeply cathartic experience, but one that I will probably want to repeat at some point in the future. I suspected this book would be good but I did not expect it to be sensational. And it was, without a doubt.
“Something you’re interested in?”
The usual smile was no longer there. Instead, she looked somber—not as intense as when we spoke in the car, but definitely more serious than I’d ever seen her.
Her words took me even more off guard than her appearance. “How’d your mom die, Adam?”
It took me a moment for the question to sink in. I wasn’t used to talking about it. While I suspected Aaron thought about her, quite a lot actually, he never said anything to me. Likewise, it didn’t seem like it would do anything for me to have a conversation with him about it.
I licked my lips and swallowed hard. I wasn’t able to look into Olivia’s eyes because they seemed to bring up too many emotions. I trained my gaze on the blue book with gold lettering across the small aisle. “She died giving birth to me.”
“So you never even met her?”
I shook my head and tried to push back the welling depression that always overtook me when I thought about that very fact. “No. She pushed Aaron out, but they had to cut her to get me out. I don’t know. My dad won’t say much. Just that her blood pressure dropped, and she was gone before she heard me cry.”
Olivia didn’t say anything, which I was happy for. Sometimes people felt obligated to fill the silence after deeply personal things were shared. I liked that she gave me the distance to feel what I was feeling and not have the additional pressure of alleviating the awkwardness.
“Sometimes I think my dad hates me because of it. Aaron, too.”
That was my voice. I’d said those words, but I hadn’t meant to. I hadn’t even known that I wanted to. I looked down at my lap as I pushed a deep breath of air out. I held it in my mouth, ballooning my cheeks as the breath escaped slowly through my lips. The thought I’d just expressed felt heavy, and I wished I’d felt lighter after having released it, but I didn’t.
Olivia sort of leaned into me, nudging me with her shoulder. “They might have complex feelings, but I’m sure they don’t hate you. Of course, I’ve only met your dad once, but I don’t think he could ever hate either of you.”
We were quiet again. She drew her knees up, putting her chin on them. I felt bad for making what should’ve been a fun time into a depressing thing, but she’d brought up the subject. We were sitting in the metaphysical section, surrounded by books on death, dying, and the afterlife, so maybe the conversation was more appropriate than anything else.
“What about you? How did your mom die?” I asked, turning my whole body to face her. I wanted to see her expressions as she revealed more of herself to me just as I had just done for her.
She took a deep breath, and looked me in the eyes. “We were grocery shopping and the store got robbed. It happened really fast, but one of the two guys fired and one of the bullets hit my mom.”
“Oh my God.” It always seemed like I didn’t know what to say to her, but this was different. What was there to say to that? It was horrible, and I couldn’t imagine what she’d gone through at all.
Despite the fact that I liked the silence she gave me after telling her about my mother, I couldn’t give her the same for long. There was so much to know and I felt drawn to learn it all. “You were with her?”
Olivia nodded, her face twisting up into some kind of a mask of pain. Her lips were pressed tightly together and her eyes closed for a moment. When she opened them again, she turned away from me. I thought she might cry, but when I looked at her profile, I saw there were no tears.
“How do you process that?” I sighed when I realized I sounded more like a therapist than I’d wanted to sound.
“I didn’t process it. I accepted it and moved on.”
Her voice was too steady and her words were much different than I expected. “But I don’t—”
“Listen, life’s too short to let sadness overpower you for long periods of time. Like you said, ‘Everyone dies.’ I felt my emotions, cried my tears, and then came to peace about it. You don’t ever ‘get over’ something like that,” she said, adding air quotes. “All you can do is embrace the experience and do your best to go on.”
I struggled to understand. Her mother was dead. So was mine. Her statement about never getting over something like that was incredibly accurate, in my opinion. Yet, her comment about simply embracing the experience was foreign to me. “I don’t know anything about my mom. How do I ‘embrace’ her dying as I took my first breath?”
She turned to me once again. “You know that she loved you enough to die to give you life. And if you want to be poetic about it—you took your first breath, she took her last, and together you breathe every day.”
The words bumped around my mind until I was able to dissect and study them then put them back together. Maybe she was right. Maybe my mom gave me my breath. Maybe she lived through me now.
Olivia had a way of making everything seem better.