The Girl I Wanted to Be Review
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The Girl I Wanted to Be is the dramatic story of a family as seen through the eyes of one of its children and of the disillusionment that child faces when she realizes that her idyllic family is flawed, and she stops seeing things as a kid and starts seeing them as an adult.

Fourteen-year-old Presley Moran (named after Elvis) idolizes her mother’s younger sister, Betsi, a young, alcoholic aunt who could have a dangerous influence over her niece (if the child were not more mature than the aunt). Presley’s cousin on her father’s side, Barry, is a few years older than Presley and a constant presence in her life. They share a family bond as well as a cherished friendship.

Presley’s adolescence would, for the most part, be considered normal—a girl doing the things adolescent girls do. Her high school years feature friendships, slumber parties, crushes, and the accompanying pitfalls—nothing out of the ordinary, really. But when Presley learns of Betsi’s relationship with a younger man, she’s devastated, the family is threatened, secrets and lies are exposed, and tragedy ensues.

Sarah Grace McCandless touches upon various themes in this, her second novel: a sense of belonging, how you’re defined, the impact of loss, and the consequences of choices—as well as what it means to be an idol, and whether that position can be maintained when mistakes are made and faults revealed.

While the moral may be similar to many other coming-of-age novels (i.e. life isn’t always what it seems) the story is eloquently told. The characters are well developed, complex and realistic. Presley’s family could be anybody’s family, and Presley could be anybody’s teenage daughter. The beauty of this novel is McCandless’ ability to tell a story quietly and gracefully, without boring the reader. The story progresses without deviating off into unnecessary, distracting tangents. Sarah Grace McCandless is a great storyteller and a pleasure to read.

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