Review: I’ll be You (Janelle Brown)

Twins Elli and Sam are discovered one day on a beach by a talent scout/agent. While Elli isn’t exactly over the moon about being an actor, Sam takes to it immediately. They hit the jackpot, since twins are able to allow Hollywood to work around the max hours underage children can work. As the grind off filming goes on, Elli becomes more and more reserved, and it’s clear she doesn’t want to do it any longer. Sam come sup with an idea: “I’ll be you,” she says, and so she does, taking on both her and Elli’s parts. This is draining, though, and no one notices. Except the makeup artist, who tells Sam she’s going to burn out if she keeps it up. Sam continues, though, and the makeup artist starts her on a dark road by giving her Adderall.

Eventually, the girls age, and as happens far too often for the very young in Hollywood, there are soon some unpleasant items popping up: Elli gets drunk and vomits at a party, Sam, now on to more drugs than Adderall, passes out one day after excusing herself from another party.

The book deals with the grownup Elli and Sam. The backstory we get in a series of “Then” chapters. Sam’s downward trajectory into drugs and alcohol continued, eventually consuming her and leaving her broke. After multiple rehab stints, she’s finally sober for over a year, and attending AA. She now works as a barista at a coffee shop. Part one is from Sam’s POV.

One day, Sam gets a call from her father, asking her to come home and help them. With what? The niece she didn’t know she had, because she hasn’t spoken to Elli in over a year. The toddler is running the grandparents ragged. Sam agrees, and heads home.

There she finds her parents caring for Elli’s adopted child, while Elli attends some kind of spa. But Elli’s been gone for a couple of weeks, and her parents have no idea where exactly she is, or when she’s coming back.

From there, the book takes off, and it’s Sam who drives it forward. Part two is from Elli’s POV, and we get her story on what’s she’s doing – basically, joining a cult that’s obviously based on Scientology. She’s pushed into a rather despicable act

But it’s Sam who is the more interesting POV character, who tracks down Elli, who discovers the truth about everything and who, despite her history, and against all odds, winds up being the rational one in the entire mess. I love a good redemption story.

There are a couple of UK Englishisms on the front end of the story but they’re not interruptive ad it’s clear what is meant, so no ding for that. the story is well told, and the dive into the formative years for the twins in Hollywood is fun, despite what Sam gets into. There are no slow spots here. It’s a one sit read, really, and in this case, that’s a good thing.

A solid four out of five stars.

Thanks to Random House and NetGalley for the reading copy.