Gallagher harnesses the turbulence and cadence of adolescence in this ambitious if uneven debut. Two of the novel’s three sections are set in the 1990s, starting with the account of best friends Meghan and Judy, both 14, as they slip away for the weekend to attend a house party thrown by a girl Meghan met online. When they get to the address, they’re greeted by a disturbed elderly woman and follow her upstairs. What they find is shocking and traumatic. Gallagher then introduces Caleb and Miles, who were uprooted from their privileged San Francisco enclave for Ann Arbor, Mich., after their mother accepted a prestigious academic position. Caleb seeks thrills among the industrial ruins of Detroit and falls in with Tez, a graffiti artist, but old “beefs” between Tez and another artist culminate in a shocking assault whose consequences will reverberate across decades. Gallagher is at her best when conveying the vulnerable, yearning space between childhood and maturity, such as when Miles scurries through the dark with his companions in a former department store marked for demolition and suddenly becomes scared (“not of getting in trouble... but of finding himself unable to rise to whatever unknown challenges came”). Gallagher falters in the third section, speeding toward a conclusion where the disparate characters collide in 2016 Brooklyn. Despite some missteps, Gallagher perfectly captures a generation’s dislocated vibe. (June)
From the Publisher
Named a "Must-Read New Book This Week" by Bustle
Named One of "13 New Books to Get You Through the Week" by LitHub
"[A] fast-paced debut novel...[that] asks what it really means for people to define themselves."
—The New York Times Book Review
“Dazzling...Who You Might Be is a brilliant, splintery coming-of-age novel that perfectly captures the nervous thrum of adolescence and the unnerving fragility of adulthood. Gallagher is so acutely attuned to the lies (and secrets) we tell (and keep from) ourselves and others. It puts me in mind of Emma Cline and Rachel Kushner.”
—Peter Ho Davies, author of A Lie Someone Told You About Yourself
“I read Who You Might Be with my heart beating at a different register because I knew I was in the presence of a writer who knows how to match an acrobatic and singular use of language to the density of human complexity. Gallagher enlivens worlds and characters with an observational eye and ear tuned to frequencies most of us don't see and hear.”
—Marisa Silver, author of The Mysteries and Mary Coin
Spanning two decades and a continent, this novel traces the consequences of rash decisions made in youth.
It's 1997 in Southern California. When 14-year-olds Meghan and Judy sneak away to find Cassie—supposedly a model—whom they’ve grown to adore in a chat room, their disappointing mothers barely notice their daughters’ absences. This parental neglect and the girls’ lack of cellphones add a note of terror to what happens next. Cassie isn’t home, but her senile great-aunt is, and she locks Meghan and Judy in Cassie’s bedroom. In alternating chapters, a third-person narrator relates the girls’ plight—to amuse themselves in captivity, they read Cassie's diary—and Cassie’s story. Cassie seems unaware that visitors were coming and has embarked on a bus journey from California to find her own disappointing mother in a Nevada commune. All of this happens in the first of the novel's three parts, which function almost as separate novellas. The second follows brothers Miles and Caleb, whose wealthy family moves from San Francisco, where 14-year-old Miles was secretly involved with a male friend, to Detroit, where much-older Caleb gets involved in the city's underground graffiti scene via a fellow skateboarder named Tez. Soon Caleb ropes Miles into the dangerous fun. This portion of the book, set in 1996, culminates in a series of events that shed unflattering light on Caleb’s character. The third portion of the book, set in 2016 New York, asks whether former sinners change. Caleb is dating Judy, who now goes by Jude. As the action opens, Jude’s mother, Bonnie, is flying east to visit her daughter and finally make amends for her alcoholism and toxic relationships, which stained Judy’s childhood. To say too much about what happens over the course of her four-day visit would spoil the book, which ties up many (though not all) dangling plot threads. There are a few too many characters for comfort: Meghan, Cassie, Miles, and Tez all get outsized attention given their secondary roles in the arc of the novel. Until Part 3, it is unclear who will matter, and it can be disappointing when beloved figures are forgotten. Still, the prose is good, the plot progresses at a satisfying clip, and the characters are endearingly flawed (except for Judy/Jude, whose only moral flaw is having a bad mother, lover, and friend). Gallagher writes meaningfully about the intergenerational impacts of addiction, abuse, and sexual violence.
An earnest novel about the insecurities of adolescence and the impossibility of escaping one's past.