[Please note: I received an Advanced Reading Copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange only for an honest and thorough review. This is (to the best of my ability) a spoiler-free review.]
A children’s fictionalization of the historical account of the city of Strasbourg, France, in the 14th century, Eva Wiseman’s Another Me tells the story of first love, of faith and one’s people, and of a city rife with racial and political unrest. Set against the backdrop of the onset of the bubonic plague across Europe, the book follows the life of the young Jewish boy Natan, who is content and relatively safe while living with his family and learning his father’s trade. As a soulful understanding and romance begins to blossom between Natan and the young Christian girl Elena, however, so does the threat of the plague spread to Strasbourg, and tensions between the Jewish people and their neighbors build. A single moment of violence will change Natan’s life forever and place the great responsibility to protect his people solely on his shoulders.
Another Me, told from the point of view of both Natan and Elena — as it is convenient to the story—, is characterized by simplified syntax and diction that keep the plot moving right along. Much of the story is told as if it were the characters’ stream of consciousness, jumping thought to thought, idea to idea. Many of the events are relayed primarily via straight-forward dialogue and a lot of telling, rather than showing, as if we are witnessing it all as Natan and Elena objectively experience it. Certain moments, especially of grief and trauma, could have used more emotional responses from the main characters and others in the scene. Otherwise, Another Me is a very easy read that flows well and quickly.
The events, characters, and mystical elements of the story draw an interesting conflict between the concept of the body and the soul, and, respectively, one’s self and one’s people. Though the plot posits that the body and the soul can be rendered separate, it asks if we can separate our selves — our wants, our needs, our individuality — from those of our community, from a greater good. Throughout Another Me, the people of Strasbourg actively sever themselves from their Jewish and Gypsy neighbors, so we see it is possible to separate a political community. In the case of Natan, however, he claims the Jewish faith as not only his community, but also his “people,” a distinction that means he and others define this as an innate and inseparable part of his identity. He starts the book with his own individual self with only slight allegiances to his community: He verbally defies those who would hurt his father, stands up for others in need, and falls in love and pursues a woman of the Christian faith. By the end of his experiences and ordeals, after his soul and body have been rendered separate, Natan is faced with a choice: Stay with the girl and brother he loves or save that brother’s life and, by extent, his people. The dilemma he faces leaves us wondering what are our greatest strengths? Where do our greatest loyalties lie? And what would you do to act on them?
A good option for fans of historical fiction, Another Me allows us to witness the resilience and strength of hope, faith, and love even as the world its characters used to know crumbles around them. In a time of adversity and violence, it leaves us questioning how far we would go to save and preserve those strengths of ours. Readers should be aware that the book does portray some mature themes such as racial abuse, severe violence, and graphic description of illness and death that may be unsuitable for younger readers.
Eva Wiseman’s Another Me will be published September 13, 2016 with Penguin Random House Canada.