My Second Life is impossible to put back once you’ve picked it off the shelf. The idea of a girl who remembers a past life is not new, but add the fact that she did something terrible and doesn’t remember quite what, forces you up to the shop counter so you can cuddle up on the couch with it ASAP.
This book promises mystery and readily delivers, but more than that it takes you for a ride across the human emotional spectrum. Ana, once Emma, was born remembering her past life, and misses her mother from that life, finding it impossible to call her new mother, mum.
Instead, she calls her Rachel and can’t stand letting Rachel hug or touch her.
Ana’s coldness is initially off-putting. We witness Rachel trying so hard to be loved and to understand her distant daughter. Ana appears a little selfish and self-consumed. It is a testament to Faye Bird’s superb rendering of character that we soon start to understand Ana, and the fact that she is really grieving for a mother who is still alive but would not even know her.
Ana is trying to live the life of a typical teenage girl (crushes and all) when what is going on inside her head is definitely not typical. That being said, the past life memories are the only thing supernatural about the story, everything else is completely human. Ana’s struggle alienates her from those around her and it is a struggle that she battles alone with, until her past life comes creeping into her current life in the form of a bitter woman called Frances who Ana immediately recognises as the mother of Catherine, a child who tragically drowned. An incident that Emma was involved in somehow.
Deep feelings of guilt erupt within Ana and what follows is an unravelling of horrific events, both past and present. We discover what happened to Catherine and why Frances is so determined to inflict pain on Ana. The story turns ever darker, as the character of Frances becomes more and more twisted. This lends an element of danger and unpredictability that speeds up the page turning. This pace carries the novel along to a heartbreaking twist that leaves the reader emotionally raw, devastated and yet somehow hopeful.
My Second Life explores a number of heavy themes in a sensitive and moving manner and is difficult to fault. The portrayal of Frances versus that of Emma’s father was one area which seemed to show the man getting off lightly, while the woman takes on harpy-like features when both are guilty of the same sin. Perhaps a reviewer with softer feminist eyes would read this differently, and it is true that the book presents an array of female characters, different and strong in various ways. Ana, however is the only developed female character of her age group and it might have been more encouraging to see her bond with girl peers as opposed to the good looking boy in her school.
It has become a troubling cliché in YA for female characters to feel that they just don’t fit in with other girls their age (ahem,Twilight) and this encourages competition and alienation between women from an early age. Friendships between young women and girls are important in order for them to develop a healthy sense of self and we need more YA willing to give as much attention to friendships as they do to romantic relationships.
These ideas may have helped to further enrich this already fantastic debut novel. Read to the end of this book without shedding a tear – that is your challenge. Tears or not though, this book will touch readers both YA and beyond.
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