The term “identity crisis” takes on a whole new meaning in this haunting debut novel from two veteran Hollywood screenwriters. Imagine what it would be like to go to sleep every night knowing that your dreams would be filled, not with the average rehash of your own phobias, memories, and the day’s events all jumbled surreally together, but instead with another existence.
For Sloane and Maggie, two teens who share the full name Sloane Margaret Jameson, closing your eyes after a full day of living your own life means waking up to start a new day in the life of the other girl. Perhaps that wouldn’t be so bad if the two worlds remained separate, but what do you do when the people and places from one life begin to seep over into the other?
“Lucid” opens with Maggie recalling how she started calling herself by that name when her kindergarten teacher telephoned her mother to complain that “Sloane” had socked another child in the mouth. When confronted by her mother, Maggie places the blame on her usually invisible best friend Sloane, an imp who seemingly loves to get her into trouble. Those familiar with Shirley Jackson’s famous short story “Charles” may at first be lured into thinking the plot line is heading in a familiar direction at this point. But they will soon see that the authors have something completely different up their sleeves.
Stolz and Bass begin the process of introducing Maggie’s flamboyant and free-spirited lifestyle to us, deftly creating a believable if somewhat out-of-the-ordinary world peopled with her artistic and creative family and friends. Yet when Maggie goes to sleep after her fast-paced day in Manhattan, the book shifts gears as Sloane wakes up to her small town life in Mystic, Connecticut.
Telling the lives of both girls in alternating chapters, the authors fully develop the two main characters and their separate settings as well as fleshing out a few of the supporting roles in the girls’ surroundings. Maggie, for example, is a confident, focused young actress who is determined to make it big in Hollywood someday, even if it means occasionally crossing moral lines. Her mother, Nicole, whom her daughter always refers to by her first name in her narration, works for Elle magazine as a mid-level editor and leaves much of the mothering of her other child, Jade, to Maggie. While Maggie doesn’t really mind being a substitute parent in many ways to her sister, she does recognize Nicole’s weakness as a mother. While mom and daughter have a friendly if rather unconventional relationship, Maggie really shares her heart only with her psychiatrist, Emma. Only Emma knows about Sloane, but she believes her to be all in Maggie’s head and worries that if the fantasy remains too deeply rooted it could devolve into schizophrenia or multiple personality disorder. She feels that Maggie holds onto the belief that Sloane is real because she secretly longs for a more stable home life.
While Sloane’s life is definitely more conventional than Maggie’s, it hasn’t brought her much happiness lately. Almost a year ago her best friend, Bill, was killed, and Sloane has had a difficult time dealing with his death and her own life ever since. Unlike Maggie, whose father exited the scene years ago, Sloane has two parents in the home, along with a rather wild little brother named Max. Tyler, her older brother and also a close friend of Bill’s, no longer lives at home. Since Bill’s death, Sloane’s relationships with those around her have been strained, especially her relationship with her mother. Her other best friend, Gordy, works hard at being supportive, but Sloane grows more and more distant and unstable as the anniversary of Bill’s death approaches.
Just as Sloane’s life holds an attractiveness for Maggie, so does Maggie’s life and personality appeal to Sloane. While Maggie is bold and outgoing, Sloane is afraid of the spotlight but secretly wishes for some of the other girl’s courage.
Both Maggie and Sloane are smart enough to realize that the other girl they dream about at night might be a product of their imaginations, but because of how realistic the dreams feel, they also often truly believe in the existence of the other person. What scares them the most, though, especially as they each start to experience visual overlaps between the two lives, is that perhaps the one they are dreaming about every night is actually the real girl, and that one day it will be the dreamer who disappears forever.
While “Lucid” is an intriguing novel that will keep the reader guessing to the end, and perhaps even after the book is finished, it has several issues that could be problematic for Christian readers. For example, teenage sex and drinking are seen as acceptable, and strong language is used periodically. There are a few sexually charged situations along with allusions to homosexuality. In general, while the book is entertaining and shows off the authors’ cinematic background, it is filled with many elements that conflict with a Christian worldview.
Image copyright Razorbill. Review copy from the reviewer’s personal collection.
John E. Roper, in addition to his role as a missionary/pastor/teacher in Africa, has written for USA Today, the Arizona Republic, the Daily Oklahoman, the US Review of Books, and more.
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