Jenny Shaw’s boyfriend has just broken up with her and she’s alone in a hotel for a work conference when someone shouts “Jessie!” from across the lobby. Impulsively, she answers, and ends up pretending to be a girl who seems to be much more fabulous than the real Jenny. As she gets further embroiled in the lives of strangers, she realizes it’s going to be harder than she thought to extricate herself.
Definitely a rom-com put to paper, this sweet little novel hits all the romantic comedy sweet spots and should have no trouble attracting adoring readers and fans. While the premise itself is a little far-fetched, especially when one factors in social media, online presences, and the like, it’s easy enough to let some of that go and become enveloped in Larkin’s vivid settings and memorable characters.
Jenny as a narrator is both likable and sort of frustratingly indecisive. Not every reader will understand why she does what she does in this novel, but her motivations seem authentic enough to make it believable for a character like this to behave in the manner she does. The novel’s most interesting bits revolve around her friendships with several of the women she meets as “Jessie,” and the ruminations on female friendship are thought-provoking and moving.
Of course, there’s also romance here, but it’s handled with a light touch, which works well in its favor. As Jenny becomes Jessie to this group of strangers, she finds herself drawn to Fish, a boy who loved the real Jessie all through high school. What happens next is predictable but ultimately fairly satisfying. The friendships are what make this novel work. Witty dialogue and a whip-fast pace make this a page-turner and fast read. It’s frothy and fun.
Why Can’t I Be You by Allie Larkin. Plume: 2013. Library copy.