Double Identity
Margaret Peterson Haddix
Simon & Schuster Books, 2005

A young adult novel intended for children 10-13; it is mostly a mystery, I suppose, although it also has an important science fiction element. Whatever you classify it as, it has received good reviews and is an easy and engaging read, although I don't think it quite makes the category of "children's books I would recommend to adults".

The story follows Bethany Cole, a 12-year-old girl who has led a mostly regular life; this changes suddenly one night when her parents pack her bags and load her into the family car without explanation. They eventually drop her off at her aunt's house -- an aunt she didn't even know that she had. Her parents leave her there, without a word of explanation, and her aunt doesn't seem inclined to explain anything either. And that is the premise of the story. Bethany spends the rest of the book trying to figure out what is going on. She is also, of course, upset over being abandoned, and Bethany and her aunt are interesting people to learn about, but mostly this story is about the central mystery behind Bethany's unexpectedly cryptic family.

As the story goes on, Bethany's aunt eventually turns out to be an ally, and they make some progress on the mystery. Unfortunately, the story moves rather slowly, and I don't feel that I can say much about the conclusions they reach, simply because they don't really reach any of them until at least one quarter of the way into the book. The science fiction twist doesn't come along until much later, but it's pretty important (and thoroughly foreshadowed), so the secret is in the hyperlink if you are interested.

The book is a bit frustrating, in that Bethany seems ridiculously reluctant to ask basic questions about her situation, even while worrying about it constantly. This, along with the fact that no one is willing to answer the questions that she does ask, sometimes makes the book seem as if it is dragging along forever. Even so, it is not boring, just a bit annoying, which in a way tells you how engaging the story is.

I don't think that this could be considered a story with a lesson, but it does go into more detail than I would have expected on the subjects of religion, dealing with death, self-identity, although not all in relation to each other. It is not overbearing in regards to any of these, but if you are keeping score it comes down on the side of Christianity, moving on, and 'we invent our selves, ontology be darned'. While I don't necessarily agree with the author on all points, it is nice to see a book that encourages kids to think a bit.

All in all a good book, but not as good as some other's of Haddix's books. I would suggest starting with one of her more popular books, perhaps Among the Hidden, if you haven't read it. I found Double Identity to be a bit too much fuss over a little bit too little action, and a little too easy in its resolution. On the other hand, it manages to take a single, rather simple idea and make an interesting for 200 pages.

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