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Someone Else's Life Paperback – 2 Feb 2012
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About the Author
Katie Dale loves nothing more than creating characters - both on page and onstage. She studied English literature at Sheffield University and spent a year at the University of North Carolina. In 2008 she won the SCBWI Undiscovered Voices competition. Her first novel, SOMEONE ELSE'S LIFE, published in February 2012, she's currently working on her next YA novel. Katie lives in Cambridge.
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It's apt that one of the characters ends up a soap star in Someone Else's Life because that's exactly what the plotting and pacing felt like. There is so much going on and it moves from one revelation to the next. There are secrets and lies, but all of a sudden they're out in the open and then there's something else. And drama at every turn. Which is fine, if you like soaps, but I didn't think it allowed for any real tension to build up and none of the topics were dealt with in much depth. Yet it was still rather compulsive reading and I made it to the end.
The narrative is shared between Rosie and an anonymous teenage girl who is facing an unplanned pregnancy. Rosie's story leads you to make assumptions about the second narrative that may not be true. One thing that was realistic, even if it meant for less of an enjoyable reading experience, is the self-centredness and selfishness of the teenage girls. The world revolves around them and they can't seem to put themselves into the shoes of others. I'm not quite sure this gels with Rosie's role as a caregiver. Often teenagers in that position grow up very fast.
And as for Rosie. She doesn't take long to get over her mother's death. I don't care if she did have a shock at finding out she wasn't her biological parent, she would still grieve. But no, she goes off on her own adventure, her only thought for her mother that she's relieved she won't face the same fate.
There was a whole other story to be told; one where Rosie gives up her education in order to care for her dying mother. I thought there would be more flashbacks but after the background is set, it's only mentioned in passing. Whilst the book gave a basic impression of Huntington's disease, it did seem to make it look like a common condition. Both main characters go to a clinic that appears to specialise in it and with waiting rooms full of patients displaying symptoms. I'm pretty sure most people would go to their regular doctor and are unlikely to come into contact with other sufferers without seeking them out through help groups.
Someone Else's Life follows Rosie as she comes to term with the death of her mother from the hereditary condition Huntington's disease and discovers that she isn't actually her mum after all. Katie Dale doesn't take a gently, gently approach. I was surprised at just how brutally honest Someone Else's Life is from the very beginning. Her characters are complex and flawed, and react in human ways, which aren't always pleasant but are believable. This kind of book could easily get wrapped up in over sentimentality but Dale doesn't give into it.
I knew absolutely nothing about Huntington's disease before reading this book. Without overwhelming the reader with medical jargon we get an insight into the terminal disease and genetics, which was very interesting. But this isn't just a book about a family ripped apart by illness or a quest to find biological parents. It throws up many other questions along the way. Is knowing your fate being forewarned or is it better to enjoy your life while you can? How much does biology make a family or is is it down to more than DNA? Can changing the fate of others ever pay off even if you truly believe you are doing the right thing? as well as many others. Yet it manages to never be preachy and the questions are drawn from the readers themselves rather than thrust upon them from the author.
For such a complex book, Katie Dale manages to keep the story easy to follow and uncomplicated, even when the lives of the characters most definitely are. I've seen this book described as Picoult for a younger generation, and I'd agree it has some elements of Jodi Picoult's novels. While I think it is more accessible though, Someone Else's Life doesn't simplify things and would appeal to both teens and adults alike. This is a gripping, emotional roller coaster with a very real and human cast. It does border on the over dramatic at times, and things fall into place a little too easily now and then, but over all I thought this was a very clever plot well done. I certainly couldn't put it down and thought long and hard about some of the issues it raised, most particularly would I want to know if I was going to develop a horrendous illness sometime in my future? If you enjoy emotional, contemporary fiction, twists and turns and thought provoking subjects you'll enjoy this book.
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