While I considered the things I want to say about this book, I quickly realized that most everything I want to say about it is a spoiler. When I Was You is a psychological thriller where every twist and turn is one that you want to be surprised by as you read it. And, there are many delightfully dark and twisted surprises for which to look forward.
What I Loved
I loved the TWO unreliable narrators. They both have significant mental health disorders, which makes the narration both fascinating and cumbersome. An unhealthy mind is complicated to process, but it is also interesting to see what happens when a disorder occurs. I felt that the depiction was reasonably accurate, and I loved the inclusion of a counselor and therapy for one of the narrators. I found that to be a very realistic portrayal.
As cumbersome as the stories narration is, it is also what builds the suspense throughout the book. Nothing creates suspense like knowing you have no idea what lengths a character will go and what they will do next. Chills went down my spine with the first few pages, and that feeling did not let up until after the story ended.
There are plenty of twists and turns and surprises. Even if you predicted one twist, wait because there will be plenty more you never anticipated. And that is true to the very end, where there is one last twist that will leave you delightfully uncomfortable and wondering what happened after the pages stop.
The characters that are not plagued by a mental health disorder (there are only a few) are very relatable and the ones who are suffering, you can’t help but feel weary compassion for them. Overall, I felt that characters were developed nicely with complex layers derived from a series of actions and consequences.
To Read or Not to Read
If you love psychological thrillers with unnerving endings and multiple unreliable narrators, this story is just what you are looking for to provide lots of thrills and chills and all those delightfully dark, twisty things that make the genre so fun.
Thank you to NetGalley and the publisher for providing me with an advanced copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.
About the Book
- Title: WHEN I WAS YOU
- Author: Amber Garza
- ISBN: 9780778361046
- Publication Date: August 25, 2020
- Publisher: MIRA Books
YOU meets FATAL ATTRACTION in this up-all-night psychological thriller about a lonely empty-nester’s growing obsession with a young mother who shares her name.
It all begins on an ordinary fall morning, when Kelly Medina gets a call from her son’s pediatrician to confirm her upcoming “well-baby” appointment. It’s a cruel mistake; her son left for college a year ago, and Kelly has never felt so alone. The receptionist quickly apologizes: there’s another mother in town named Kelly Medina, and she must have gotten their numbers switched.
But Kelly can’t stop thinking about the woman who shares her name. Lives in her same town. Has a son she can still hold, and her whole life ahead of her. She can’t help looking for her: at the grocery store, at the gym, on social media. When Kelly just happens to bump into the single mother outside that pediatrician’s office, it’s simple curiosity getting the better of her.
Their unlikely friendship brings Kelly a renewed sense of purpose, taking care of this young woman and her adorable baby boy. But that friendship quickly turns to obsession, and when one Kelly disappears, well, the other one may know why.
It was a Monday morning in early October when I first heard about you. I was getting out of the shower when my phone rang. After throwing on a robe and cinching it, I ran into my bedroom, snatching my cell off the nightstand.
Normally, I let those go. But I’d already run all the way in here, and I thought maybe it was a call from Dr. Hillerman’s office.
“Hello?” I answered, breathless. Goosebumps rose on my pale flesh, so I pulled the robe tighter around me. My sopping wet hair dripped down my back.
“Is this Kelly Medina?”
Great. A salesperson. “Yes,” I answered, wishing I hadn’t picked up.
“Hi, Kelly, this is Nancy from Dr. Cramer’s office. I’m calling to remind you of your well-baby appointment this Friday at ten am.”
“Well-baby?” I let out a surprised laugh. “You’re about nineteen years too late.”
“Excuse me?” Nancy asked, clearly confused.
“My son isn’t a baby,” I explained. “He’s nineteen.”
“Oh, I’m so sorry,” Nancy immediately replied. I could hear the clicking of a keyboard. “I apologize. I called the wrong Kelly Medina.”
“There’s another Kelly Medina in Folsom?” My maiden name had been Smith. There are a million other Kelly Smiths in the world. In California, even. But since I’d married Rafael, I’d never met another Kelly Medina. Until now.
“Yes. Her child is a new patient.”
It felt like yesterday when my child was a new patient. I remembered sitting in the waiting room of Dr. Cramer’s office, holding my tiny newborn, waiting for the nurse to call my name.
“I have no idea how this happened. It’s like your numbers got switched in the system or something,” Nancy muttered, and I wasn’t sure if she was talking to me or herself. “Again, I’m so sorry.”
I assured her it was fine, and hung up. My hair was still wet from the shower, but instead of blow-drying it I headed downstairs to make some tea first. On my way, I passed Aaron’s room. The door was closed, so I pressed it open with my palm. The wood was cold against my skin. Shivering, I took in his neatly made bed, the movie posters tacked to the wall, the darkened desktop computer in the corner.
Leaning against the doorframe of Aaron’s room, my mind flew back to the day he left for college. I remembered his broad smile, his sparkling eyes. He’d been so anxious to leave here. To leave me. I should’ve been happy for him. He was doing what I’d raised him to do.
Boys were supposed to grow up and leave.
In my head I knew that. But in my heart it was hard to let him go.
After closing Aaron’s door, I headed down to the kitchen.
The house was silent. It used to be filled with noise – Aaron’s little feet stomping down the hallway, his sound effects as he played with toys, his chattering as he got older. Now it was always quiet. Especially during the week when Rafael stayed in the Bay Area for work. Aaron had been gone over a year. You’d think I’d be used to it by now. But, actually, it seemed to get worse over time. The constant silence.
The phone call had thrown me. For a second it felt like I’d gone back in time, something I longed for most days. When Aaron was born everyone told me to savor all the moments because it went by too quickly. It was hard for me to imagine. I hadn’t had the easiest life growing up, and it certainly hadn’t flown by. And the nine months I was pregnant with Aaron had gone on forever, every day longer than the one before.
But they were right.
Aaron’s childhood was fleeting. The moments were elusive like a butterfly, practically impossible to catch. And now it was gone. He was a man. And I was alone.
Rafael kept encouraging me to find a job to fill my time, but I’d already tried that. When Aaron first left, I applied for a bunch of jobs. Since I’d been out of work for so long, no one wanted to hire me. That’s when Christine suggested I volunteer somewhere. So I started helping out at a local food bank, handing out food once a week and occasionally doing a little administrative stuff. I enjoyed it, but it wasn’t enough. It barely filled any of my time. Besides, I was one of many volunteers. I wasn’t needed. Not the way Aaron had needed me when he was a child.
When he left, the Kelly I’d always known ceased to exist. Vanished into thin air. I was merely a ghost now, haunting my house, the streets, the town.
As the water boiled, I thought about you. Thought about how lucky you were to have a baby and your whole life ahead of you. I wondered what you were doing right now. Not sitting alone in your big, silent house, I bet. No, you were probably chasing your cute little baby around your sunny living room, the floor littered with toys, as he crawled on all fours and laughed.
Was your child a boy? The lady on the phone didn’t say, but that’s what I pictured. A chubby, smiling little boy like my Aaron.
The kettle squealed, and I flinched. I poured the boiling water in a mug and steam rose from it, circling the air in front of my face. Tossing in the tea bag, I breathed it in, leaning my back against the cool tile counter. The picture window in front of me revealed our perfectly manicured front yard – bright green grass lined with rose bushes. I’d always been particular about the roses. When Aaron was a kid he always wanted to help with the pruning, but I never let him. Afraid he’d mess them up, I guess. Seemed silly now.
Heart pinching, I blew out a breath.
I wondered about your yard. What did it look like? Did you have roses? I wondered if you’d let your son help you prune them. I wondered if you’d make the same mistakes I had.
Bringing the mug to my lips, I took a tiny sip of the hot tea. It was mint, my favorite. I allowed the flavors to sit on my tongue a minute before swallowing it down. The refrigerator hummed. The ice shifted in the ice maker. My shoulders tensed slightly. I rolled them out, taking another sip.
Shoving off the counter, I was headed toward the stairs when my cell buzzed inside my pocket. My pulse spiked. It couldn’t be Rafael. He was a professor and his first class had already started.
Nope. It was a text from Christine.
Going to yoga this morning?
I’d already showered. I was about to tackle my latest organization project. Today was the kitchen pantry. Last week I’d bought a bunch of new containers and bins. Friday I’d spent the day labeling all of them. After taking the weekend off since Rafael was home, I was anxious to continue with it. I’d already organized several closets downstairs, but my plan was to work my way through all the closets and cabinets in the house.
Usually I loved yoga, but I had way too much to do today.
No, I typed. Then bit my lip. Backspaced. Stared at the phone. My own reflection emerged on the slick screen – disheveled hair, pale face, dark circles under the eyes.
You need to get out more. Exercise. It’s not healthy to sit in the house all day. Rafael’s voice echoed in my head.
The organizing would still be here tomorrow. Besides, who was I kidding? I’d probably only spend a couple of hours organizing before abandoning my project to read online blogs and articles, or dive into the latest murder mystery I was reading.
I typed, yes, then sent it and hurried to my room to get ready.
Thirty minutes later, I was parking in front of the gym. When I stepped out, a cool breeze whisked over my arms. After three scorching hot summer months, I welcomed it. Fall had always been my favorite season. I relished the festiveness of it. Pumpkins, apples, rustic colors. But mostly it was the leaves falling and being raked away. The bareness of the trees. The shedding of the old to make room for the new. An end, but also a beginning.
Although, we weren’t quite there yet. The leaves were still green, and by afternoon the air would be warm. But in the mornings and evenings we got a tiny sip of a fall, enough to make me thirsty for more.
Securing the gym bag on my shoulder, I walked briskly through the lot. Once inside, it was even colder. The AC blasted as if it was a hundred-degree day. That’s okay. It gave me more of an incentive to break a sweat. Smiling at the receptionist, I pulled out my keys for her to scan my card. Only my card wasn’t hanging from my key ring.
I fished around in my bag, but it wasn’t there either. Flushing, I offered the bored receptionist an apologetic smile. “I seem to have misplaced my tag. Can you look me up? Kelly Medina?’
Her eyes widened. “Funny. There was another lady in here earlier today with the same name.”
My heart pounded. I’d been attending this gym for years and never had anyone mentioned you before. I wondered how long you’d worked out here. “Is she still here?” My gaze scoured the lobby as if I might recognize you.
“No. She was here super early.”
Of course you were. I used to be, too, when Aaron was an infant.
“Okay. You’re all checked in, Kelly,” the receptionist said, buzzing me in.
Clutching my gym bag, I made my way up the stairs toward the yoga room, thoughts of you flooding my mind. A few young women walked next to me, wearing tight tank tops and pants, gym bags hanging off their shoulders. They were laughing and chatting loudly, their long ponytails bouncing behind their heads. I tried to say excuse me, to move past them, but they couldn’t hear me. Impatient, I bit my lip and walked slowly behind them. Finally, I made it to the top. They headed toward the cardio machines, and I pressed open the door to the yoga room.
I spotted Christine already sitting on her mat. Her blond hair was pulled back into a perfectly coifed ponytail. Her eyes were bright and her lips were shiny. I smoothed down my unruly brown hair and licked my dry lips.
She waved me over with a large smile. “You made it.”
“Yep.” I dropped my mat and bag next to hers.
“I wasn’t sure. It’s been awhile.”
Shrugging, I sat down on my mat. “Been busy.”
“Oh, I totally get that.” She waved away my words with a flick of her slender wrist. “Maddie and Mason have had a bazillion activities lately. I’ve been running around town like a crazy person. I honestly feel like I’m going insane.”
“Sounds rough,” I muttered, slipping off my flip-flops. This was the problem with getting married and having a kid so young. Most of my friends were still raising families.
“I know, right? I can’t wait until they’re adults and I can do whatever I want.”
“Yeah, it’s the best,” I said sarcastically.
Her mouth dropped. “Oh, I’m sorry. I wasn’t talking about you…” Her pale cheeks turned pink. “I know how much you miss Aaron. It’s just…”
I shook my head and offered her a smile “Relax. I get it.”
Christine and I met years ago in a yoga class. She’s one of those women with almost no self-awareness. It’s what first drew to me to her. I loved how raw and real she was. Other people shied away from her, unable to handle her filter-less statements. But I found her refreshing and, honestly, pretty entertaining.
“I remember how insane it was when Aaron was younger,” I said. “One year he signed up for baseball and basketball. They overlapped for a bit, and I swear I was taking him to a game or practice like every day.”
“Yes!” Christine said excitedly, relief evident in her expression. “Sometimes it’s all just too much.”
“Yeah, sometimes it is,” I agreed.
The class was about to start and the room was filling up. It was mainly women, but there were some men. Most of them were with their wives or girlfriends. I’d tried getting Rafael to come with me before, but he laughed as if the idea was preposterous.
“Remember when there were only a few of us in this class?” Christine asked, her gaze sweeping the room.
I nodded, glancing around. There were so many new people I didn’t know. Not that I was surprised. Folsom had grown a lot in the ten years I’d lived here. New people moved here every day.
Staring at all the strangers crowding around us, I shivered, my thoughts drifting back to you. We hadn’t even met, and yet I felt like I knew you. We had the same name, the same gym, the same pediatrician for our child.
It felt like kismet. Fate had brought you here to me. I was certain of it.
Excerpted from When I Was You by Amber Garza, Copyright © 2020 by Amber Garza. Published by MIRA Books.
About the Author
Amber Garza has had a passion for the written word since she was a child making books out of notebook paper and staples. Her hobbies include reading and singing. Coffee and wine are her drinks of choice (not necessarily in that order). She writes while blaring music, and talks about her characters like they’re real people. She lives with her husband and two kids in Folsom, California, which is—no joke—home to another Amber Garza.