What if instead of the smart and practical Elizabeth Wakefield girl reporter, there was a Chloe, a hardworking, soon-to-be popular teenager stunted by her enabling? And instead of that rowdy, boy-crazy Jessica Wakefield there was a Sue with the tendencies of a low-level sociopath, crippling co-dependency and a lack of self control?
And what if, when you were introduced to them, instead of giddy hopefulness about getting into the elite high school sorority, these twins were worried about the sterilization practices of a tattoo artist at the local strip mall?
This is where Marcy Dermansky has taken her pretty blonde protagonists in her wonderfully awful novel Twins. It’s like she took Sweet Valley High, plopped it in New Jersey and broke Lila Fowler’s nose with a tennis ball.
Sue strong arms her twin into getting a tattoo that says “Sue,” while she plans to get one that says “Chloe.” This is a 13th birthday marker, funded by money Sue has been stealing from their father’s wallet. She wants a permanent record of their togetherness. Chloe is reluctant, but it is nothing that some waterworks from Sue — the drama queen, prone to tantrums — can’t fix.
The story opens at a point in their relationship when Chloe is eager to shed her sister weight and forge her own identity. She’s snagged the interest of the popular crowd with her fluffy princess hair and lip gloss. At 13, she is already dreaming about going off to college, a different college than her sister.
Sue is jealous about sharing Chloe with this popular posse. And frankly, the posse isn’t really feeling her, either. She’s a little bit violent and a lot bit unstable. She breaks the ringleader’s nose with a tennis ball. She’s always waving her middle finger. She is also anti-authority and anti soap and dabbling in the art of bulimia.
Their parents, lawyers who work in New York City, are rarely home and throw hundred dollar bills at problems. Sometimes they pull out legal pads and tape recorders before not solving anything. Their older brother Daniel is a social misfit who also has his eye on the front door. He’s a Sue loyalist, though, although she fails to see that he has her back.
The twins go through a lifetime of changes in a four-year span. They are together, they aren’t together. They’re grudgingly together, Sue holding tight like a jealous boyfriend. Then Chloe finds a way out of this obsessive relationship by discovering she’s got a talent beyond conjugating verbs to get ahead in her French class.
Sue hitches her star to a sexy stranger’s pig-tailed art wagon and finds a new path — and hairstyle — of her own.
The story is told in alternating voices as the twins race to find new and specially tailored routes to rock bottom.
Dermansky likes her characters flawed. She likes to roll them in muck. And like I said after lapping up her other novel, Bad Marie, she likes to rip the wings off of them. And so far she is 2-for-2 in writing the sort of stories that make one cackle with evil glee.