There was the version of me I created to show the world, and the version of me that felt like me…and I can’t tell where they overlap.
All young adult literature is concerned with identity. If you ever study young adult literature, that’s one of the first things you learn. One of the things I loved about Jennifer Castle‘s You Look Different in Real Life is that it’s explicitly concerned with constructing identity as a teen–with the added twist of knowing (and not just thinking) everyone is actually watching you. (The characters are part of a documentary film series that started when they were six and checks in with them every five years.)
Castle handles each teen’s persona deftly while also showing that none of them are exactly as they appear. Except, perhaps, for Rory who is exactly who she says she is. (I also like that Rory–who knows exactly who she is–has found a niche and friends.) I also really like the focus on the performance aspect–that the teens have an agenda and reasons for wanting to be seen a specific way. Whether it’s because they want to use the documentary as a springboard for a career or just to show that they have adjusted just fine thankyouverymuch, they have something to prove.
One of my favorite moments happens during one of Justine’s interviews. She tries to stay audience aware all the time, but this one time something genuine slips in and she gets SO ANNOYED. Because, of course, you don’t want to give the audience/producers/people anything real that they may be able to use against you.
Perhaps the best thing about the book’s premise is that the kids are locked into finishing out an agreement their parents made for them. In the beginning, there’s lots of talk about how they should finish what they started. The reality is, though, that their parents started it. Their parents agreed to the documentary. However, when they’re sixteen, suddenly it’s the teens’ responsibility to see the project through when it isn’t even their project to begin with. I thought that was an excellent nod to the pressure teenagers face to carry out their parents’ vision for who they should be and what’s acceptable for their lives.
So the book has lots of great moments like that as well as lots of great character work. The plot is not predictable at all, which I liked.
What didn’t I like? Well, the most dynamic character (Keira) with the most dynamic relationship (a significant part of the book concerns Keira’s relationship with her mother) is secondary. I wanted more with them, which I couldn’t get with the way the book was structured. Also, I just didn’t think Keira was in the story enough.
My final complaint is that while I liked all of the characters just fine, I didn’t love any of them. I wouldn’t let that be a deterrent, though. Each character is certainly worthy of love from someone.
In conclusion: Great premise and well-developed characters make this a worthy read.