Eighteen-year-old Bronwen Oliver is convinced she was taken home by the wrong parents; she’s nothing like the daughter of her mother’s dreams, the perky blond go-getting cheerleader. She’s gone as far as to make a fake identity for herself, pretending to be Phoebe Lilywhite.
But when she starts hanging out with Jared, a college guy and former friend of her brother, maybe she learns things aren’t so bad being Bronwen — he’s a good guy, and their relationship is rock solid. He’s respectful of her, listening to her wishes to remain a virgin until marriage. Things just click with them, and as the school year progresses, so does the depth of their romance; he pops her the big marriage question and she says yes. The two of them plan out her post-high school lives together, but, as you’d expect, things don’t necessarily work out as planned. This might be precisely what makes Bronwen realize that being herself is the most important thing and that life as Phoebe Lilywhite might not be anything more special.
I Now Pronounce You Someone Else was a breath of fresh air for me amid a lot of depressing reading (and not that depressing reading is bad). Bronwen is a memorable character and one that takes quite a different path through her life than most high school girls do. She’s ready to get married young, and she has the blessing of her friends and family. It’s just herself that may cause her to rethink this decision and other big things in her future.
The pacing in McCahan’s book is spot on. I never found it to lag, even when there were many opportunities for it to do so. The exploration of self and character here is done cleanly and respectfully to the reader — it never feels like there is a big lesson to be learned or that the decisions Bronwen makes are right or wrong. The reader has to decide for herself. The dialog in this book, both that between the teen characters and that between the teens and parents, felt authentic. The arguments between Bronwen and her mother were realistic, and as a reader, it was easy to see both sides of the argument (despite, of course, pulling for Bronwen to come out ahead in them).
What probably stood out most to me, as I alluded to earlier, was the different paths Bronwen chooses as a character. She’s pretty militant about her decision to remain a virgin until marriage, and she doesn’t do it because of a religious reason. She’s just decided that is what she wants to do, and that belief helps guide her out of a relationship that wasn’t working for her (and one that, in the end, will come back in a different way). Likewise, Bronwen is also ready to get married right after high school, a plot point that will strike most readers who are set on the path to go to college immediately after high school and then do the marriage thing later in life.
I Now Pronounce You Someone Else will resonate with readers because everyone has felt like an alien in their own skin and family. Many may find themselves a little teary eyed after reading, too, so be prepared for that. Though there is frank discussion of sex in this one, it’s through the eyes of Bronwen’s decision of not participating in it, and the language here can best be described as your typical teenager’s tongue. Hand it off to fans of realistic fiction more along the lines of Sarah Dessen than Ellen Hopkins. I think this book, since it does straddle the line between high school and college life, will have large appeal for the older YA set, including college students and those in their twenties. The points of instability inside Bronwen are relatable to anyone in the stages of making big life-altering decisions and taking the step from childhood to adulthood. There are few books that capture this so accurately.
This excellent debut leaves me excited to see what McCahan will offer next.
Kelly Jensen is a former librarian turned editor for Book Riot. She's the author of IT HAPPENS: A Guide to Contemporary Realistic Fiction for the YA Reader and the forthcoming Feminism For The Real World (Algonquin Young Readers, Spring 2017).