"She doesn't know anything about Elizabeth." To twelve-year-old Bethany Cole, Elizabeth is an ominous and unknown name that she hears whispered often. But Bethany will soon grow used to the 'unknown' when she is dropped off (in the middle of the night) by her strangely-acting parents to live far away with an aunt she's never even heard of. With each passing day living in her aunt Myrlie's care, Bethany discovers more strangling mysteries. Now she is sure that Elizabeth was more closely related to her than she could ever dream of. And the only fact she is sure of now is that she knows less and less about her own life... her own parents... and her own self.
Even as a little kid, Bethany always knew that her parents were different from those of her fellow friends'. They doted on her unrealistically; her mother began to sob ridiculously at random; and her father was so overprotective he might as well have been taking every step with Bethany, holding her steady. But as Bethany nears her thirteenth birthday, her mother cries all the time, which prompts her father to scurry the whole family into the car and drop Bethany off at Aunt Myrlie's.
At her new home, Bethany feels terribly alone; and whenever she ventures outside, the inhabitants of Myrlie's small town blanch and gasp, as if they have seen a ghost. And Myrlie, obeying Bethany's father's instructions, refuses to answer any of her questions. The confusion is about to thicken tremdously, though. After Bethany's dad has neglected to call for days, a problematic package comes, containing ten thousand dollars and four different birth certificates from four different states... with four different last names. To put the cherry on top of this toxic sundae, a broken note from her father is found in the package, the first few sentences of which are: He is chasing me. He is hunting me down. Thought he would stay in prison. I lied to him. Lots of lies... We made a deal with the devil and now the devil is demanding his due... Bethany knows now that her parents are running away: from the grave danger that might have just shown up at her doorstep... her supposedly safe doorstep.
Now Bethany must ask the most unanswerable question of all: Who is she? But this frightening concept is put aside temporarily when Myrlie's adult daughter, Joss, visits. The three of them talk with Bethany about who Elizabeth was: her sister. It turns out they are only half-right. And when Bethany finally figures out the other half of Elizabeth's secret from her unstable mother (who keeps on hallucinating, thinking Bethany is Elizabeth), she is horrified and feels she cannot go on thinking of herself as Bethany anymore. When a shady, ex-con millionaire shows up, demanding for Bethany's father, Bethany realizes that in order to continue living, she must solve all these secrets that have become her life.
In the suspenseful novel Double Identity, Margaret Peterson Haddix seamlessly settles the war between science and psychology. By merging these two very contrary concepts, Haddix creates a thought-provokative yet poetic story. Right when the readers think they have connected one more piece of the puzzle, another astounding mystery pops up, dashing apart the pieces. Thus, the numerous secrets hidden in this brilliantly fascinating page-turner are left unsolved until the very finish.
Review by A.