In Stay, Allie Larkin’s first novel (linked to my review), a woman adopts a puppy over the internet and gets a lot more than she bargained for. Her newest novel, Why Can’t I Be You, is based on a premise a bit more outlandish but is just as fun and quirky.
Jenny Shaw, having just been dumped at the airport by the boyfriend she thought was going to ask her to move in with him, arrives at a conference in Seattle and instinctively turns her head when she hears her name. Only the name being called isn’t Jenny, it’s Jessie. Jenny is caught by surprise and decides to just go with it, pretending to be this Jessie person, with the intention of never again seeing the woman who is hugging her. It seems Jenny bears a close physical resemblance to Jessie, so much that her high school friends, in town for their 13th reunion, don’t realize Jenny isn’t their Jessie, who they haven’t seen since graduation when she disappeared from their lives. But Jenny ends up spending time with Myra and finds she likes her, but also keeps up the ruse by attempting to reminisce about memories she obviously doesn’t have.
Each time Jenny decides she’s going to tell Myra and her friends the truth, she ends up digging a little deeper hole. Besides, Jenny’s own life kind of sucks right now, why not be someone else for a while? Only Jenny also falls for Fish, the guy who pined for Jessie in high school, and starts to feel pretty guilty about lying to the only real family she’s ever had.
With each turn of the page, Jenny gets closer to getting caught in her web of lies, and while the reader knows the truth is going to come out as the charade can’t be kept up forever, you also want Jenny to keep the new friends she’s made. She hasn’t had the greatest life — her mother’s alcoholism prevented her from making friends as a youth, shown through flashbacks, and her only friend back home in Rochester is not a girlfriend, like Myra has become.
Jenny shows a lot of growth throughout this well-paced novel, and while it is a bit far-fetched that no one realizes she’s not Jessie (with the possible exception of Fish’s father), it’s not hard to believe that Jenny is the Jessie her friends really wanted all along, since Jessie was not really a nice person. I enjoyed this novel very much and recommend it for it’s warmth and humor, as well as the Pacific Northwest setting.