My rating: 4.25 of 5 stars
Length: 384 pages
Release date: 2 January 2018
Eighteen-year-old twins Adina and Tovah have little in common besides their ambitious nature. Viola prodigy Adina yearns to become a soloist—and to convince her music teacher he wants her the way she wants him. Overachiever Tovah awaits her acceptance to Johns Hopkins, the first step on her path toward med school and a career as a surgeon.
But one thing could wreck their carefully planned futures: a genetic test for Huntington’s, a rare degenerative disease that slowly steals control of the body and mind. It’s turned their Israeli mother into a near stranger and fractured the sisters’ own bond in ways they’ll never admit. While Tovah finds comfort in their Jewish religion, Adina rebels against its rules.
When the results come in, one twin tests negative for Huntington’s. The other tests positive.
These opposite outcomes push them farther apart as they wrestle with guilt, betrayal, and the unexpected thrill of first love. How can they repair their relationship, and is it even worth saving?
“Maybe we’ll never fully understand each other or know all of each other’s secrets, and surely we’ll never recapture our childhood innocence. But we can have something new. Something messy and real and imperfect, because that’s what both of us are.”
Honest. Genuine. Frank. I’m so glad I picked up this book, and let me tell you right now that you should too. Whether you’re Jewish or not, whether you have a sister or not, whether a close family member or friend is affected by a neurological disorder or not, You’ll Miss Me When I’m Gone will speak to you like few other contemporary YA/NA novels.
The title, I feel, is perfect. It reminds me instantly of Anna Kendrick’s Pitch Perfect cover of the Cup Song, which wouldn’t be the worst soundtrack to accompany Rachel Lynn Solomon’s story. Adina and Tovah are twin sisters who used to be close but are now driven in completely different directions. One is a Juilliard-destined viola prodigy; the other’s an aspiring Johns Hopkins doctor. One is beautiful beyond her age and adept at using it; the other struggles with conventional insecurity in her body. But most importantly, one of them tests negative for Huntington’s disease; the other tests positive.
There’s a great, tense buildup at the start before revealing which sister will be the one with Huntington’s. It’s legitimately unpredictable, to the point where I was changing my mind about my guess up to the last couple of pages before we actually find out. Something in the text might give it away then, but hey, it’s about time. The result isn’t something I’ll spoil, because despite coming 15% of the way through, it’s arguably the story’s biggest twist.
Yes, You’ll Miss Me When I’m Gone is dark and gritty. It deals with the entire range of taboos as self-harm, religion, and age-inappropriate relationships. With Judaism saturating every page and HD being a naturally sensitive topic, this book could have gotten very preachy. I’m impressed by how much it managed to avoid that pitfall. For the most part, the book lays out situations as the narrators Adina and Tovah view them (which are often in polar opposite ways) and leaves you to judge for yourself. There’s remarkably little trace of a message, let alone one being shoved down your throat.
The only catch here is euthanasia. While not a focal point of the book, and only considered briefly by one of the characters, I’m not the biggest fan of how it’s treated. Yes, I do support euthanasia intentionally chosen by patients in sound mind, which is why I wonder that Solomon had to write it seemingly in such a negative light. It feels to me like she passes far more judgment on euthanasia than the teacher-student relationship that takes up much of the novel (not saying that she should have taken more of a stance on that issue–I love it as it is). Obviously, not everyone will feel the same way as I do, and that’s a good thing. If this book will get people thinking about these questions, it’s accomplished one of the most important objectives of contemporary YA.
On the characters, I will say that Adina is much more interesting than Tovah, both in terms of their initial identity and the journeys they eventually goes through. For me, Adina is the 5-star part of this book, and Tovah is the 3 stars. I’m probably being unfair to Tovah, because she goes through so much awful crap that no 18-year-old would have to deal with in a fair world, but I just find her a lot more uninspired on the whole. I’ve seen her character before. Bronwyn Rojas of One of Us Is Lying is a parallel that comes to mind immediately. While she’s by no means played completely straight as the good girl, Tovah’s character doesn’t develop insightfully enough to make her stand out, especially when she’s next to such a storm of a character as Adina.
Adina is something else entirely. You want to criticise her so much, but you also feel so sorry for her, and you want to love her so badly. You can tell that the author gets every facet of this figure. Solomon captures the pain, the passion, the longing behind Adina absolutely brilliantly; she’s just a powerhouse of a character. The highs and lows are visceral like for few other protagonists–I may have none of Adina’s musical genius, but it’s so easy to put myself into her shoes. The Adina/Arjun dynamic is possibly the boldest thing I’ve seen in the genre in months, and Solomon sells it such that I rooted for them against the blaring alarms of my better judgement. Problematic has never looked so alluring.
You’ll Miss Me When I’m Gone is a heartbreaking and angsty portrait of a family torn by Huntington’s disease, but it’s one of those books where tragedy reveals human strength. There’s incredible resilience to be found, and even more significant is the tale of two sisters learning to love again. Doubtless we can all learn from that.