Eighteen-year-old Bronwen Oliver has a secret: She’s really Phoebe, the lost daughter of the loving Lilywhite family. That’s the only way to explain her image-obsessed mother; a kind but distant stepfather; and a brother with a small personality complex. Bronwen knows she must have been switched at birth, and she can’t wait to get away from her “family” for good.
Then she meets Jared Sondervan. He’s sweet, funny, everything she wants — and he has the family Bronwen has always wanted too. She falls head over heels in love, and when he proposes marriage, she joyfully accepts. But is Jared truly what she needs? And if he’s not, she has to ask: What would Phoebe Lilywhite do?
At its heart, I Now Pronounce You Someone Else is about 18-year-old Bronwen’s quest for identity – who she is, where she comes from, what she wants. And, perhaps most importantly, what she doesn’t want – yet.
Bronwen has a long-held theory that she was actually switched at birth. It’s the only way she can explain the differences between her and her family, especially her distant, blond mother (a fact that screams through the pages every time Bronwen calls her “Mother” instead of “Mom”). Her stepdad is okay, though, despite his failure to officially adopt her after the death of her father. And her brother, nicknamed Jesus, is away at college and really isn’t too bad, as long as Bronwen remembers to bow down to him the way her mother does.
When Jared Sondervan comes into Bronwen’s life, though, she thinks she’s finally found the person—and the family—that gets her. Jared may be four years older, but they fall in love, and Bronwen quickly finds herself embraced by his loving family and his picture-perfect collegiate friends. Finally, she’s a part of a family that talks openly, laughs loudly, and loves each other unconditionally—unlike her own, in which the evening news is the only safe topic of conversation and an annual trip to color Bronwen’s naturally-brown hair blond (to match her mother’s) is the only bonding activity. It’s not long before Bronwen finds herself completely immersed in the Sondervan family, feeling fully accepted in spite of her quirks. And soon enough, she and Jared are engaged, and Bronwen couldn’t be happier. Or so she thinks.
The writing style of debut author Erin McCahan is swift and tight; the book is almost entirely comprised of small scenes – some spanning less than a page, some spread out over three or four – and are ordered in such a way that makes for easy, pleasing reading. The setting travels swiftly from Bronwen’s home to high school, to Jared’s home and college environment, and even to Bronwen’s favorite vacation spots. There’s snappy dialogue and witty banter, and a nice pace that kept me reading and eager to learn the outcome.
This book did raise some issues that I think are important to analyze in YA literature, particularly when it comes to romance and relationships. Now, I love me a good romance, and YA is ripe with some excellent examples; with Bronwen and Jared, though, the reader doesn’t really get a chance to see how or why they fell in love. Their relationship felt so rushed (which, admittedly, may have been the point), and I had a hard time believing a college senior would be so ready and willing to enter into a committed relationship with a high school student who’s barely left her small town in Michigan. I also took issue with the “romantic” gestures that Jared leaves for Bronwen, most of which I found not just unrealistic, but also a bit too old-fashioned and (dare I say it?) bordering on creepy and somewhat patronizing for my tastes. In short, I suppose I just never trusted Jared as a character, which meant I had a hard time liking Bronwen for falling so deeply in love with him.
However, Bronwen has a definitive and satisfying character arc throughout I Now Pronounce You Someone Else which was executed wonderfully. Her issues with her identity, her stepfather, her still-lingering grief over her father’s death, and her strained relationship with her mother are all believable, relatable, and fully developed by the various supporting characters and plotlines, while crumbs of foreshadowing are littered throughout to help the reader understand (and accept) the book’s climax.
Part of being a teenager is about finding your identity, and I appreciated Bronwen’s path as she uncovered the secret sadnesses within herself and took the necessary steps towards resolving them. Her decisions and motivations made sense, and while I am still not entirely happy with the outcome, overall, I Now Pronounce You Someone Else was a breezy and lighthearted yet ultimately thought-provoking read.
Publication Date: June 2010
Teaser quote: “After that weekend, I was on the fast track to becoming what I had wanted to be for so very long – Bronwen Someone Else, with a Real Family all my own.”