Double Identity
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Double Identity

4.6 375
by Margaret Peterson Haddix
     
 

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So my only protection is a kindergarten teacher and a ninety-eight-pound female minister....And they don't even believe I'm in danger.

As Bethany approaches her thirteenth birthday, her parents act more oddly than usual. Her mother cries constantly, and her father barely lets Bethany out of his sight. Then one morning he hustles the entire family into the

Overview

So my only protection is a kindergarten teacher and a ninety-eight-pound female minister....And they don't even believe I'm in danger.

As Bethany approaches her thirteenth birthday, her parents act more oddly than usual. Her mother cries constantly, and her father barely lets Bethany out of his sight. Then one morning he hustles the entire family into the car, drives across several state lines — and leaves Bethany with an aunt she never knew existed. Bethany has no idea what's going on. She's worried her mom and dad are running from some kind of trouble, but she can't find out because they won't tell her where they are going.

Bethany's only clue is a few words she overheard her father tell her aunt: "She doesn't know anything about Elizabeth." But Aunt Myrlie won't tell Bethany who Elizabeth is, and she won't explain why people in her small town react to Bethany as if they've seen a ghost. The mystery intensifies when Bethany gets a package from her father containing four different birth certificates from four different states, with four different last names — and thousands of dollars in cash. And when a strange man shows up asking questions, Bethany realizes the's not the only one who's desperate to unravel the secrets of her past.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Compelling."
Kirkus Reviews

"[A] twisting plot and spine-tingling creepiness."
VOYA

"Gripping."
Booklist

For months, 12-year-old Bethany Cole has been anxiously watching the changes in her parents. Her mother seems to be weeping constantly, and her father is reluctant to let her out of his sight for even a minute. Then, just before her birthday, Bethany is whisked to an aunt's house and seemingly abandoned. Worried and confused, she searches for an explanation, but when the package arrives from her father, the mystery only intensifies. Spine-tinglingly real.
Publishers Weekly
Haddix (the Shadow Children series) releases another suspenseful pageturner here narrated by Bethany Cole. As the novel opens, Bethany is anxious; her father has barely let her out of his sight and her mother has been weeping for months. Now, a few days before her 13th birthday, her father has put the two of them in the car, headed West. He leaves Bethany with her Aunt Myrlie and drives off with no explanation. The only clue Bethany has is what she heard her father say to her aunt, "She doesn't know anything about Elizabeth." Bethany is determined to learn why she has been left with an aunt she never knew existed, and what the mysterious Elizabeth has to do with it all. Later, Bethany appears to be in danger from a stalker-perhaps she is not the only one searching for answers. Haddix conveys Bethany's dismay and fear through believable dialogue and thoughts-the girl's growing awareness of uncanny similarities between herself and Elizabeth (their love of Froot Loops and tough vocabulary words)-and believably charts the heroine's slow warming to her aunt and cousin. Bethany's gradual feelings of anger and resentment towards her parents are particularly poignant. Haddix's timely novel raises provocative issues about what makes an individual unique, with both compassion and clarity. Ages 10-14. (Oct.) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Children's Literature
Haddix is the queen of taking a basically simple storyline and creating an amazingly suspenseful book. Bethany Cole realizes that her parents have been extremely over-protective, but understands that as older parents they are a little different from her friends' parents. As she approaches her 13th birthday, she has come to accept that they hover over her at all times and that her mother's "crying" is increasing. Then in the dark of night her father bundles Bethany and her mother into the family car and they head off to an undisclosed destination. It turns out that Bethany's mother had a living sister. "You'll be fine with your aunt Myrlie." says her father as he tells her that she will be "safe" with her aunt. Totally confused by being left with a relative that she has never even known existed, Bethany begins to try to piece together the things that she has overheard to try to understand why someone is following her and what is so unusual about her own identity. The whole story is leading up to the fact that Bethany's older sister, Elizabeth, had been killed in an accident and that Bethany is her clone. The masterful writing style, fast pace, and intriguing premise keeps the reader enthralled even after Bethany's origin has been revealed. Haddix has once again given us a page turner sure to be a hit with those who enjoy a ride perched on the edge of their seat. 2005, Simon & Schuster, Ages 10 to 14.
—Sheilah Egan
KLIATT
Bethany's weeping parents drop her off with an aunt she has never met, in a small Midwestern town. Slowly her identity, her double identity, is revealed to her and to her aunt and older cousin, Joss. Bethany is an apt name, since it is the town where Jesus brought back Lazarus from the dead; Bethany's older sister Elizabeth died in an accident when she was just 13, and her parents found a way to bring Elizabeth back from the dead by cloning her to make Bethany. Joss was once Elizabeth's closest friend and now is a minister, which helps in the discussion of survivor's guilt, the ethics of cloning, and other themes implicit in the plot. Within several days of Bethany's arrival, someone is stalking her. And her parents behave even more strangely, hiding their own whereabouts, sending $10,000 in cash for Bethany's care. This book is for the youngest YAs, and Bethany's courage and intelligence will win over readers; the suspense works too. Most gripping of all, however, is the contemplation of what it would be like to be a clone, especially the clone of your own sister whom you never knew. KLIATT Codes: J—Recommended for junior high school students. 2005, Simon & Schuster, 218p., Ages 12 to 15.
—Claire Rosser
KLIATT - Claire Rosser
To quote the review of the hardcover in KLIATT, September 2005: Bethany's weeping parents drop her off with an aunt she has never met, in a small Midwestern town. Slowly her identity, her double identity, is revealed to her and to her aunt and older cousin, Joss. Bethany is an apt name, since it is the town where Jesus brought back Lazarus from the dead; Bethany's older sister Elizabeth died in an accident when she was just 13, and her parents found a way to bring Elizabeth back from the dead by cloning her to make Bethany. Joss was once Elizabeth's closest friend and now is a minister, which helps in the discussion of survivor's guilt, the ethics of cloning, and other themes implicit in the plot. Within several days of Bethany's arrival, someone is stalking her. And her parents behave even more strangely, hiding their own whereabouts, sending $10,000 in cash for Bethany's care. This book is for the youngest YAs, and Bethany's courage and intelligence will win over readers; the suspense works too. Most gripping of all, however, is the contemplation of what it would be like to be a clone, especially the clone of your own sister whom you never knew.
Children's Literature - Leigh Herran
Bethany Cole, daughter of a doctor and his wife, learns a stunning secret a few days before her thirteenth birthday: she is a clone of her sister Elizabeth. Bethany never knew her sister because Elizabeth died in a car accident. As the story unfolds, Bethany realizes that in an attempt to soothe the pain of the loss of this beloved daughter, her father made the copy. This young girl struggles with the ethics of cloning as she also struggles with the nature of her own identity. She questions the kind of people her parents are, whether they are the good guys or the bad guys. At one point, Bethany's parents kiss her on the forehead, and she wonders if her parents are thinking of her or of Elizabeth. Do her parents love her or do they love the "recycled" version of her sister? Bethany's journey brings her back to herself. Although not all of her issues are resolved in the end, she does come to terms with her own identity and her parents' love for her. This novel opens a little window into the world of young people and one potential connection between this age group and one of the most hotly debated topics in science today. As such, it would be a good addition to science classes and the ethical implications of recent scientific advances.
School Library Journal
Gr 5-8-One October evening, Bethany's parents drive her to another state to stay with an aunt she never knew existed. Left confused and without a way to contact her parents, the 12-year-old tries to figure out the reason behind their strange behavior and learns some family secrets in the process. It turns out that she is the clone of her sister, who was killed years earlier in a tragic automobile accident, and she is being hunted by a man who wants to expose her secret existence for his own benefit. Although there is not much action, the twists and turns of the suspense-filled plot are more than enough to keep readers interested. When one question is answered, another one is raised. Readers will relate to Bethany's feelings of abandonment, as well as her struggle to set herself apart from the sister she never knew but with whom she shares so much. This quick, engaging read is a good choice for reluctant readers.-Michele Capozzella, Chappaqua Public Library, NY Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Bethany's life has always been safe and protected; her parents comfort her, spoil her and spend frequent quality time with her. But one day, when she's almost 13, her parents bundle her into the car and drive her to Sanderfield, Ill., where they leave her with an aunt she never knew she had. Aunt Myrlie is kind, but nobody will tell Bethany where her parents have gone. Why do Myrlie, her adult daughter and the Sanderfield townspeople stare at Bethany as if she's a ghost? Who is this mysterious "Elizabeth" she keeps hearing about? As Bethany finds answers to some of her questions, a mysterious man follows her around town. Tough philosophical puzzles are raised here, though explored too lightly, as Bethany confronts identity, free will, ethics vs. law and whether parents should live vicariously through their children. A surprisingly comforting resolution concludes this safe but compelling thriller. Bethany's discovery of her own identity makes for a mystery well worth solving. (Science fiction. 10-12)

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780689873799
Publisher:
Simon & Schuster Books For Young Readers
Publication date:
03/27/2007
Edition description:
Reprint
Pages:
192
Sales rank:
51,175
Product dimensions:
5.20(w) x 0.60(h) x 7.70(d)
Age Range:
10 - 14 Years

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

My mother is crying.

She is trying to do it silently, but from the back seat of the car I can see her shoulders heaving up and down, her entire body racked by sobs. I look out the window at the darkness flowing past our car, and all the pinpoints of light on the horizon seem far, far away. My mother always cries, now. In the beginning, back in the summer, I used to try to comfort her, used to ask her — stupidly — "Is something wrong?" And she'd force her face into some tortured mask of fake happiness, her smile trembling, her eyes still brimming with tears: "Oh no, dear, nothing's wrong. Would you like some milk and cookies?"

That was before today, before my father hustled the three of us into the car and we drove for hours and hours across unfamiliar states, the light fading and the roads we are on getting smaller and smaller, more and more remote.

I do not know why my mother is crying. I do not know where we are going.

I could ask about our destination, if nothing else. A thousand times today I've started to open my mouth, started to squeak out, "Can you tell me...?" But then I'd look into the front seat, at my mother's silent shaking, my father's grim profile, the mournful bags beneath his eyes, and all the questions I might ask seemed abusive. Assault and battery, a question mark used like a club. My parents are old and fragile. I'd have to be heartless to want to hurt them.

A red traffic signal flashes overhead, and my father comes to a complete stop and stares at the empty crossroads for whole minutes before inching forward. He's an insanely careful driver. My mother is too — or was, before she started crying all the time and stopped doing anything else.

I turn my head, looking away from both my parents. We're on the outskirts of a small town now. I squint out the window at a dark sign half-hidden in bushes: Welcome to...It's S — something, something — field, the letters in the middle covered by branches. Springfield? Summerfield? I've lost track of what state we're in. Indiana? Illinois? Could we possibly have crossed over into Iowa? Maybe one of those I-states has a cluster of seasonal villages I've never heard of: Springfield, Summerfield, Winterfield, Autumnfield. Maybe Mom and Dad are just taking me on yet another educational field trip, like when we went to the Liberty Bell and Independence Hall.

I can't quite believe this, but the thought cheers me up a little. Even educational field trips are better than sobbing and grimness.

A row of fast-food restaurants glows on the other side of my window, and this cheers me too, even though I'm not hungry. Wendy's, McDonald's, Burger King, Taco Bell — so well lit, so safe, so sane, so ordinary. I'm so busy wallowing in the comfort of their garish lights that I almost miss hearing the first words spoken in our car in hours.

"Those are new," my father murmurs.

I glance again at the golden arches outside my window. Nothing looks particularly new to me. But...has my father been in this town before?

My mother doesn't answer him. Still, I peer out the window with renewed interest. In a matter of minutes, we come to a town square, with a soaring courthouse and a quaint row of shops. The shops are closed, their signs dark. Spring/Summerfield has gone into hibernation for the night or the winter or maybe even the entire century. Our headlights throw a brief glow on a flaking-away billboard on the side of a building, and I could swear part of the sign is still advertising a circus from 2006. Years ago.

My father turns onto a residential street, turns again, then once more. He pulls up to the curb and shuts off the engine in front of a dark house surrounded by huge trees. The sudden silence is horrifying, and it seems to catch my mother off guard. A tiny whimper escapes her, the sound amplified in the stillness. Surely my father hears her now; surely he and I can't go on pretending she isn't crying.

"Wait here," my father says. He does not look at Mom or me. He gets out of the car and gently shuts the door. He stands still for a second, looking at the house. Then he opens the wrought-iron gate and walks slowly toward the front door.

The streetlights illuminate little more than a square or two of sidewalk, so I can barely see my father as he hobbles up the porch steps. I squint. I imagine that he is pressing a doorbell now, maybe tapping lightly on a screen door. All I can hear is my mother gulping in air in the front seat. Her shudders are practically convulsive now. I reach out, planning to put a comforting hand on her shoulder. But before I can touch her, she plunges forward, burying her face in her hands, sobbing harder.

I pull back.

Up on the porch, a light clicks on, warm and bright and startling after all the darkness. I can see everything on the porch now. It's enormous, wrapping around the entire front of the house and the sides as well. Sometimes I play a game where I pretend I'm a movie set designer: This porch would fit very well into one of those heartwarming family dramas set in the early 1900s. I can picture a dozen children dressed in lacy dresses and knickers lounging on all the white wicker chairs, whiling away long summer afternoons playing marbles and checkers, whispering innocent secrets, laughing at innocent jokes.

That porch is a happy-looking place, and my father — burdened, stoop-shouldered, cadaverously thin — doesn't seem to belong on it.

The door opens and a woman appears. I can't see her face very well, but she has white hair and is wearing a plush red dressing gown. Or robe — I know it's just an ordinary robe, but I've gotten into that old-fashioned mindset. The woman surprises me by stepping out onto the porch and throwing her arms around my father. He stands there awkwardly, like he's not sure he wants to be hugged. He glances back anxiously toward our car, toward Mom and me.

The woman releases him from the hug but still keeps one hand on his arm. She says something I can't hear. I glance toward the front seat again, where my mother still has her face buried, trying not to hear or see anything. I reach over and grip a knob on the door beside me. We are the only people I know who still have manual controls for rolling our car windows up and down. This is a fairly new car — only a year old — so my dad must have asked for the nonelectronic controls special. Maybe he even paid extra. Usually I'm embarrassed that my parents are so low-tech, but tonight I'm grateful. I roll down the window in total silence.

My father is answering the woman.

"Oh, Myr," he chokes out. "I hate having to ask this of you...."

He glances toward the car again, and I crouch down into the shadows, hoping it's too dark for him to see whether a window is open or closed. The woman pats his arm, cradling her hand against his elbow.

"You know I'd do anything for you and Hil," she says. I like her voice. It's throaty and rich, and if I were pretending to be a movie director instead of a set designer, I'd cast her in my historical drama as the wise old governess, or maybe the kindly housekeeper.

"You'd do anything?" My father repeats numbly. "Even now? After — ?"

"Even now," the woman says firmly.

My father makes a garbled noise and then he begins sobbing, clutching the woman against him, weeping into her shoulder. Unlike my mother, my father does not cry quietly. His wails roll out like a wave of pain, and I scramble to roll up my window. My mother cannot hear that. I cannot bear to hear it myself. I am not used to my father's crying. I've had no time to harden my heart against him.

I sit still for a few minutes, breathing hard, staring at the back of my mother's seat. Crazy, all this is crazy. Why didn't they just let me go to school today, like usual? I latch on to that one word, "usual," and let it float through my mind a few more times. I call out its brother and sister words and form a comforting litany. Usual. Ordinary. Normal. Safe. Sane. Typical. Sane, safe, typical, ordinary, usual, normal.

My parents have never been normal....That's a traitorous thought, and I hunt it down and stomp it dead.

I glance back at the scene on the porch, and I'm relieved to see that my father has gotten control of himself again. He's not clutching the woman in the red robe anymore. They're not even touching, just talking earnestly. I roll down my window again.

At first, their voices are indistinct — it's like they're trying not to be overheard. I hear my own name once or twice: "Bethany is...Bethany does...," but the rest of the sentence is always lower-pitched, and I can never tell what my father thinks I am or do. Then the woman asks something and my father shakes his head violently, vehemently.

"Oh, no," he says, loud enough for me to hear, loud enough for me to be sure of what he's saying. "She doesn't know anything about Elizabeth."

Elizabeth? I think. Something about the name or the way he says it stabs at me. Whoever she is, Elizabeth is important.

My father is still shaking his head, and the woman gives her shoulders a slight shrug.

"All right, then," she says.

"Thank you," my father says. He retreats from the woman and the light beaming out from her porch, and I think, That's it, now we can go home. But I barely have time to roll up the window before my father's standing beside the car, leaning down, opening my door.

"Bethany, honey?" he says, and his voice is all wrong — too hearty, too cheerful, too fake. "We're going to let you stay with your aunt Myrlie for a while. What would you think of that?"

Aunt Myrlie? I think. Aunt? I thought all my parents' brothers and sisters were dead. I thought my family was just Mom, Dad, and me.

My father doesn't wait for my answer. He's hunched over the trunk now, pulling out a suitcase. Just one. Mine.

This is crazy, because I am twelve years old, almost thirteen, but I've never spent a single night away from my parents. I've been invited to sleepovers, of course, but there was always some reason my parents had to come and pick me up early — I had a swim meet the next day, my mother didn't want me tired out for school, it just wasn't a good time....Three of my friends went away to camp last summer, and I asked to go too, but I didn't ask very persistently because I knew what the answer would be, the same one I always got: No. Maybe another time. When you're older. I'd thought "when you're older" was just code words for "never," but here my father is, plunking my suitcase down on the sidewalk. It sits there looking alone and abandoned, and my father moves back to my car door to see why I haven't gotten out.

"Bethany?" he says.

"I have a social studies test tomorrow," I say. "First period."

And that's a ridiculous thing to say, because even if we drove all night, we wouldn't be home in time for me to make it to school first period. But I guess all day long, as I watched my mother cry, as I watched the unfamiliar landscapes fly by, I'd been holding on to the notion that however strange today was, tomorrow would be normal again, just another ordinary school day.

"Bethany," my father says again, and some of the fakeness has chipped away and I can hear the ache in every syllable of my name. "You have to stay here so I can get help for your mother."

The emotion in his voice is completely raw now. I wince, the way I would if I were staring at an open, gaping wound. I could ask plenty of questions — Where are you planning to go to get help for Mom? Why didn't you just have me stay with one of my friends back home? Who's this Aunt Myrlie, anyway? Who's Elizabeth? But I can't even bear to meet my father's eyes.

I get out of the car.

My father circles around to the front and opens my mother's door.

"Hillary?" he says, too loudly. "We're here. It's time to say good-bye to Bethany."

Dad motions for me to come and stand next to him. So I'm there in time to see Mom staring dazedly out of the car.

"Nooo," she wails. And then she hurls herself at me, and wraps her arms around me so tightly I can barely breathe. I am taller than my mom now — I grew seven inches in the past year — and it crosses my mind that my height may be the only thing saving me from suffocation.

Mom buries her face in my shoulder, and I put my arms around her. But she's weeping so hard it's like trying to hold on to an earthquake. Her sobs shake us both. She won't let go until my father peels her hands off me.

"I'm sorry," he says, and I can't tell if he's apologizing to me or to her. She collapses back into the car and he leads me away. He retrieves my suitcase, he holds the gate open for me, we climb the porch stairs — all of it feels like a bad dream. Maybe that's why I'm so docile, so obedient. In dreams you don't have choices, you just do what you do, and in the morning you comfort yourself with the idea that none of it really happened.

The woman — Aunt Myrlie? — gasps when I come into the light.

"Bethie?" she breathes incredulously. "Oh, Bethie — "

"It's Bethany," I correct her, irritably. But I don't think she hears me because she's bounding across the porch and throwing her arms around me in total joy. I hold myself stiff, partly because she's a complete stranger and partly because I've just been released from my mother's sorrow-wracked hug and it's too much of a jolt to go from that to this spontaneous burst of delirious happiness. After a few seconds the woman releases me.

"Sorry," she mutters. "I forgot myself. You just look so much like..." She glances quickly at my father and lets her voice trail off.

"You see how it is," my father says gruffly.

The woman nods silently and now there are tears in her eyes too.

"Come on in," she says, holding the door open for us. I step across the threshold but my father doesn't follow. He looks down at the strip of metal dividing the wooden floor of the porch from the wooden floor of the foyer as if it's electrified and deadly. Or as if, once he crosses it, he can never leave again.

"I really should be going," he says, glancing back at the car and at Mom.

I step back toward my father. I've spooked myself thinking about dangerous, uncrossable doorways, and even though I am nearly thirteen I have to fight the urge to throw myself at my father's feet and wrap my arms around his legs and beg like a little child, "No, please, Daddy, don't go."

My father hands me my suitcase, like he knows what I want to do and that's his way of stopping me.

"You'll be fine with your aunt Myrlie," he says, the fake heartiness back in his voice. "And we won't be gone long."

"Will you be back for my birthday?" I say forlornly. I don't know why I ask that. My birthday is November 2, still more than a week away, and the question really does make me sound like a child. It's just that birthdays are a big deal in my family, and I'm not sure I can bear it if my parents are away then.

I fully expect my father to say, "Yes, dear. Of course we'll be back long before your birthday. With lots of presents." But I look up and my father is staring back at me in mute horror. He opens his mouth, but no sound comes out. He reaches out and brushes his fingers against my cheek, cradling my face in his hand. And then his hand slips away and he stumbles off the porch, down the walkway, back to the car. He moves like he's drunk, though he couldn't be. He's barely even eaten today, let alone had anything to drink. And I've been with him for the past fifteen hours. I would know.

Really, except for school, I've spent virtually every second of my life with my parents. How could I not know what's wrong with them?

How could they be leaving me now?

Copyright © 2005 by Margaret Peterson Haddix

Meet the Author

Margaret Peterson Haddix is the author of many critically and popularly acclaimed YA and middle grade novels, including The Missing series and the Shadow Children series. A graduate of Miami University (of Ohio), she worked for several years as a reporter for The Indianapolis News. She also taught at the Danville (Illinois) Area Community College. She lives with her family in Columbus, Ohio. Visit her at HaddixBooks.com.

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