I took a hiatus from reading in February. It was simultaneously awful and glorious. I am a reader; there’s no doubt about that. But sometimes even I have to take a break from my most ardent passions in order to get back to what is best for me. So I did, both, and here I am. I only read one of the texts from my previous post, and I’m still going…
“The best fiction will send us back into our lives with new eyes,” Mejia stated at a book reading in Iowa City in late February. “[It gives] a kind of psychosis [that] I think is very healthy.”
Readers of Everything You Want Me To Be will definitely be given a psychosis, but that psychosis, to my mind, is a more empathetic compassion toward those unlike themselves.
For more on Mejia’s Everything You Want Me To Be, published by Atria/Emily Bestler Books in January of 2017, continue…
To begin, we have three main characters who provide readers’ basic narrative. Those characters include: Hattie, a teenager, which is typically description enough; however, she is also strategically manipulative—dangerous when beauty is thrown into the mix. Peter is a young English teacher glued down to a marriage marred by unmet expectations and a precarious family illness. Del is a veteran of the military and the police force; he served in Vietnam and has been on the Pine Valley local police force as sheriff for decades since.
All three of these stories weave together over the course of several months—fall 2007 into spring of 2008—a time before smart phones and social media, when most could muster a modicum of privacy. Their stories become one in the months leading up to Hattie’s death.
Long story short: Peter and Hattie end up having a relationship fraught not only by his marriage but also their age difference and his professional role as her teacher. (Insert backdrop of “Don’t Stand So Close to Me” by the Police.) Yet Hattie ends up tragically murdered, and Del is left to piece together the fractured puzzle.
Yet, who is responsible for her murder? Did Peter get tired of being manipulated by Hattie? Did Peter’s wife find out and become vengeful? Was Hattie the victim of a transient murderer on his or her way to another town?
Peter doesn’t know. Del doesn’t know. Readers don’t know. And readers likely won’t know until the end. Mejia commented at her book reading that even she didn’t know until four or five chapters from the end of the book (which is hard for my “plotter” mind to wrap around). There are details interspersed throughout the book that could give readers clues, but it really isn’t known until the end.
While the mystery may or may not elude all readers, my favorite part of this novel is the humanistic side we are shown of all characters, even those with whom we’d think we have no connection. I am a teacher, and it is hard for me to imagine having a relationship with a student (when I even let my fictional mind consider the idea, that is, for the sake of realism). However, I am left pitying Peter. That said, I’m even left pitying Hattie, and she is manipulative, deceitful, and, well, a teenager. I am left understanding why they both chose to make the decisions they did. Duress truly can, in certain circumstances, lead one to commit actions he or she would not otherwise. I felt the same for all characters, and if books aren’t anything if they’re not self-effacing.
To me, characterization is where Mejia shines. It wasn’t simply her descriptions of the characters, either, but rather the decisions they made, their rationale, and the thought processes that readers were exposed to—these are the pieces that made her story gripping.
“I write because I believe in the reality of my dreams,” Mejia stated, “the truth of my fiction.” Everything You Want Me To Be definitely shows readers the reality of her dreams, and even more—the reality of their own lives around them, even when those lives seem so dissimilar on the surface.
I purchased a copy of Mejia’s book at Prairie Lights Book Store, an independent book store in Iowa City, Iowa. You can find her book at most book retailers and through Amazon, but I encourage you to seek out an independent retailer–like Prairie Lights–to support.