Elevate Difference

The Opposite of Me

Lindsey Rose’s life is perfectly in order when The Opposite of Me opens: She’s hours away from being made a vice-president at a large advertising firm, she weeks away from owning a piece real estate in a tony New York neighborhood, she’s got a closet full of designer clothes, and, oh, she’s only twenty-nine years old. Sarah Pekkanen’s debut novel may sound like a familiar chick lit story, but over the course of nearly 400 pages, it wades into deeper waters.

At the book's beginning, the heroine is comfortable with being the successful, smart, and serious twin to Alex's breathtaking beauty, charm, and popularity. The two have orbited around each other since birth, but were never able to connect until an unexpected and catastrophic chain of events bring Lindsey back home to the DC suburb of Bethesda. Here, with her two hilarious and long-bickering parents, sister, and a childhood friend who’s always had a not-so-secret crush on her, Lindsey begins to discover and embrace her true self. Though The Opposite of Me is billed as being about sisters (and it is, in a way), the central theme seems to be identity, which even the four markers that divide the book suggest: “Success,” “Home,” “Jump,” and “Trading Places.”

Lindsey’s characterization of her twin was disturbing to me at first because the smart = ugly and pretty = dumb stereotypes for women are, generally, false. Because readers meet Alex first through Lindsey’s jealous eyes, I found the prettier twin to be unreal. Yet, I identified with the sisters. As the story unfolds and Alex is allowed to speak and feel and express herself on her own terms, readers see that there’s a lot more to her than meets Lindsey’s eye, including a devastating diagnosis that throws the entire trajectory of the novel a-plop.

As grown women, some of us would like to believe we were born with our personalities, that all of our little quirks were predestined by nature. But anyone with a sibling—particularly one of the same sex—knows that, as much as our DNA plays a part, our identities can also be formed by a desire to compete with or be different from our familial relations. In this regard, Lindsey’s extreme Type A personality juxtaposed against Alex’s seemingly carefree and lovable nature seems a lot more believable and relevant, as if years of rubbing against each other had molded polar opposite personalities.

The meat of this story involves many of the issues that engross twenty-somethings: career, family, and relationships. Both women are initially presented as perfect fodder for bragging parents, but as each begins to discover hidden talents, the sisters commit to the rough-and-tumble work of living lives of passion. Pekkanen successfully leaves many of the genre’s cliches in the trash, but that didn’t stop the writer from indulging in a few tried-and-true chick lit plot points, including The Makeover. After sexifying her image and going on a six page shopping spree, our heroine makes one last stop for new shoes.

"Your boyfriend’s going to love them," a salesperson tells Lindsey.

"Boyfriend?" I said, winking. "Don’t you mean boyfriends?"

"You go girl!" she said.

What’s not to love about that?

Written by: Whitney Teal, April 13th 2010