Book Review || When I Was Me by Hilary Freeman [spoiler free]


Imagine waking up tomorrow in a world that appears to be the exact opposite of yours. You are no longer the person you have built yourself up to be. The identity you have claimed as your own has been lost. You're a stranger to yourself, your personality is unfamiliar to your loved ones, they expect things of you that you are not familiar with being. You can't blink and make yourself you again. You haven't even got a blank slate, as the "new" you has already drawn the cards you have to play with. Most things seem out of your hands. Refreshing, or horrendous? I suppose it depends on where you are in life and how much change you're willing to endure. For 17-year-old Ella Samson, it's the latter.

Everyone hates Mondays, but boy, did she have a bad one. The saying "Tomorrow is a new start." gets an entirely new meaning. Waking in a differently decorated bedroom than she fell asleep in, hair that is inches longer, the opposite style of clothes hanging in her wardrobe, strangers on her speed dial, no boyfriend, reclaimed virginity, and a living throwback to a complicated family life.. Everything had changed.

Sure, she didn't have the most adventurous or academically thrilling life before the surprising existence revamp, but she had one. It was hers. She may of not had a large group of friends or a big happy family unit, but she had people who cared for her. A friend who was like her long lost sister and a boyfriend whom she loved. Gone. All of it gone after one night. She doesn't even look like herself anymore. How can you trust yourself when it doesn't appear to be you in the mirror? To top it off, she keeps seeing a crazed old lady who nobody else can see. Is she going mad? Is madness the reason why she's no longer the girl she thought she was? Or is it a ghost? A personality transplant? A bad wish? Science?

This book wasn't what I was expecting in the slightest. At the back it reads "A tense and dark psychological thriller full of unexpected twists and turns about the random events and decisions that make us who we are.", and that it is. Though I wouldn't necessarily call it dark, but that may be due to my horror fascination. It's thrilling and most certainly a page turner. Most importantly.. It's clever. I may be overthinking it, but it seems like any complaint I can come up with has a "Ah! but maybe that was intentional because..." point. It makes your mind run a mile a minute and I loved that. The story is fast paced - maybe a little too much at a mere 261 pages - but it knows how to keep your interest peaked. And everything was wrapped up as it should be.

The characters are enjoyable, and the main character isn't an empty shell. Ella has a firm voice and isn't afraid to use it, which is always welcoming when a book is written in first person (my preferable style to read). She's mature but has some realistic narrow-minded moments that all 17-year-old's have. It was realistic. Any YA readers out there know that most of the time, it's the side characters that steal the spotlight - partly why I think so many books nowadays have prequels. But not this one. Her friend Deeta seems like an enjoyable character from the very few scenes we get to see her in action, but it's difficult to long with Ella for the friendship when we aren't overly familiar with it ourselves, yet I think that was the point (See what I mean by the whole "Ah!" point thing?). We only know Ella as the new Ella. We get brief flashbacks but we don't delve fully into her old life, we merely get her viewpoint of it all. We are learning alongside her about this new world she awoke into and that very possibly prevents us, as the readers, to get the two muddled. We are thrown into this world at the exact moment she is. We start the story with fear and panic and follow alongside her as she comes to terms and uncovers this mystery.

One thing I found refreshing was the relationship dynamic between Ella and Billy, in both her old and new world. It's been a long while since I've read a realistic portrayal of a (older?) teen relationship in a YA book. They aren't perfect and they aren't written in a way that people would yell "#Goals!" at. They have rough edges and they both treat each other questionably at times. They're learning how to love, like most first-time couples, and it's written excellently.

In a non-spoiler way, I want to briefly mention the ending. It wasn't what I was expecting, and three days later, I'm still left questioning whether it was the ending I wanted. Half of me wanted it to abruptly stop at the obvious moment you'll come to if/when you read the book. I wanted to be left questioning, yet at the same time, would that of infuriated me? I'll never know. Either way, the ending was enchanting. It was a satisfactory ending for the characters, and for us, the readers. It is somewhat open to interpretation and it left me with questions about the overall theorised notion that they touch upon during the story (that'll make sense if you('ve) read it. Otherwise I may just seem babble happy right now, which is alright by me).

Out of the entire book there was only one thing that bugged me and that was a certain dress the protagonist bought (the dress on the cover). It's a vital moment that brings the old Ella into her new world (at least to me), yet she never wears it. I was hoping it would be used for a crucial scene - maybe even the last? It isn't necessarily important, but it would've been a nice little touch.

I'll wrap this up now. But I leave you with a question.. Would you take on the new you that comes with new possibilities and run with it? Or would you mourn for the lost soul that may never of existed to begin with? It's a mind boggle and makes you question your place in this world, which I assume was Hilary Freeman's intention when writing this. Nowadays it's more and more common for us to have an identity crisis. Half of me ponders whether this is down to the unfathomable effect the Internet has on us. Before we could only compare ourselves to those we surrounded ourselves with but now, with the power of social media, we are bombarded daily with people doing better than us - which is completely normal and unavoidable, there will always be someone ranked higher than you, someone who looks differently, who has a higher number in their bank account, who appears to have better luck (but most people aren't going to put their downfalls online, right?), the grass is always greener, yada, yada - and don't get me wrong, many find it inspiring and the overall effect helps them in bettering themselves, but the rest of the browsers and constant refreshers? It's like beating yourself up from the inside out. No longer do we need a inner voice telling us that we aren't good enough, we can simply click on an Instagram post and see someone of our own age who is doing better, someone who appears to have a "perfect" lifestyle. Is social media acting as the chip on some of our shoulders? Does it make us long for the impossible, and in turn, cause us to long for the alternative version of ourselves?

If you like YA books, you have an open mind, and you like a little mystery in your reading time.. Go for it. I would recommend When I Was Me.

Next up I'm reading The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer by Michelle Hodkin as I've read some mixed reviews and curiosity got the Anne. If you've read either books mentioned in this post, feel free to get in touch and give me your thoughts! My email is and my twitter is RootingBranches.

- Anne x

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