What was the point of being a faithful, loyal girlfriend who put all her time and energy into planning for the future and supporting her boyfriend, only to have him run off with some remedial volleyball player? What was the point in living for tomorrow instead of today, of putting faith in people who would only let me down? Really, what was the point of being Jenny Shaw? - from Why Can’t I Be You, page 46 –
Jenny Shaw is working at a PR firm in Rochester, NY and planning her future with the handsome Deagan. But when Deagan drops her at the airport for a conference trip to Seattle, he also drops a bombshell: he wants to explore things with another woman. In other words, he dumps Jenny, then drives away with her suitcase still in the trunk of his car. Devastated and without luggage, Jenny arrives at the Seattle hotel for her conference where, coincidentally, a high school reunion is also unfolding. While walking through the lobby, Jenny is mistaken for Jessie Morgan – a woman who looks a lot like Jenny but has disappeared from her hometown and the lives of her friends. Instead of correcting the mistake, the lonely Jenny decides to go with it. As Jessie’s friends pull her into their warm circle, Jenny begins to get a glimpse of what her life might have been like as someone else. But when some of Jessie’s darker secrets are uncovered, Jenny realizes life is not quite so simple.
Allie Larkin’s second novel is filled with wonderful characters who remind us of the awkwardness of growing up and the necessity of friendship. Jenny has submerged her real desires and dreams to meet those of others – including her faithless boyfriend and alcoholic mother. When she is thrust into another person’s life, she begins to discover who she really wants to be.
Reading Why Can’t I Be You was like stepping into a time machine to the past. I am much older than the character Jenny, yet so much of growing up is the same regardless of one’s age. And this is one of the strengths of Larkin’s writing – she creates characters who share universal experiences and motivations, characters who remind us of who we once were, characters who feel like our own friends.
Why Can’t I Be You is a novel about friendship, but it is also a book that explores identity. It asks the central question: If you could step into someone else’s shoes, would you? For Jenny, the answer is yes – at least at first. But ultimately, the real question is: If you could change your life, what would it look like? Allie Larkin celebrates finding our genuine selves despite the pressure to be what others expect.
This is a marvelous, funny, poignant novel which readers who love women’s fiction will adore. If you have not yet read Larkin’s work, I invite you to do so. I promise, you won’t regret it.
Read my review of Allie Larkin’s debut novel STAY which I also loved.