Title: More Like Her
Author: Liza Palmer
Rating: 4.5 Stars
I didn't expect More Like Her to wind up being my favorite Liza Palmer novel, but it is - it most definitely is. Both romantic and horrific, comforting and shocking, this isn't the warm story of Nowhere But Home or the amusing tale of Seeking Me Naked. Instead, it's much rawer, realer, and makes truly worthy statements about self-esteem and society. Just...impeccable.
Frances is a guidance counselor at the prestigious Markham School, vying for a promotion alongside her best friend, Jill. Where Jill is in a steady relationship, however, Frances is recently single--yet again--and is eager to prove herself to the new headmistress, Emma. From the outside, Emma is everything Frances aspires to be--sophisticated, intelligent, and successful. When a bullying incident brings her closer to the headmistress, however, Frances discovers that behind the veneer of perfection, Emma is hurting, broken, and doubtful. With time, Frances and Emma only grow closer, on the cusp of an unbreakable friendship, when tragedy strikes.
From the surface, More Like Her seems to be nothing more than the far-too-often-retold tale of an unlucky woman who, when it comes to romance, never seems to get it right. In reality, though, this is merely a skin-deep perception of this novel. Palmer writes friendships--relationships, really--with such a careful, nuanced construction that we learn to understand them completely. From the perceptions our friends have of us to the minute details which comprise a tight friendship, Palmer presents the relationships between Frances and Jill, Frances and Lisa (another co-worker of hers who becomes a close friend), and most importantly, Frances and Emma with complexity and depth. Every one of these four women are real, filled with their insecurities and flaws, which makes them come alive on the page, their hearts suddenly stuck in our throats as Palmer unapologetically forces us to feel every emotion throughout this narrative.
What's more, More Like Her is the type of novel whose pages we turn to a close but whose story lingers in our minds for days to come. You see, Emma's husband--all part of the veneer of her "perfect" life--brings a gun to a school event one evening and the lives of Frances and her friends are forever changed. Not only does Palmer write about a tragedy of this magnitude with poise and aplomb--particularly as this is not a novel that touches upon gun rights in the least--but she also manages to bring about growth from this event. As Frances is forced to look into her own life, she is made to look past the facades we all live with and accept as part of our lives, just as Emma likely accepted her husband for who he was and refused to see past his "calm" and "normal" exterior. It was Emma's own lack of self-worth that enabled her to keep living with a man who couldn't appreciate her value or give her the freedom to pursue the passions she wished and following the events of this tragedy, Frances--a single woman who may-or-may-not be falling in love--is forced to come to terms with her own self-worth. Whether or not she needs a man to keep her happy. Whether she truly sees herself as she is or simply sees a construct built by society that makes us view ourselves as inferior. It's a fascinating breakdown of our psyche and, what's more, Palmer observes this with each and every one of Frances friends, from her lover to her best friend Jill who seems to have everything put together in her life, particularly her love life.
More Like Her, for all the serious subject matter it touches upon, is compulsively readable and, for the most part, a fairly light read as well. Moreover, the friendships within these pages will touch your heart, the romance will make you swoon (and smile and sigh and dream and cause butterflies to flutter in your stomach and your breath to catch and all of that), and most importantly, the characters will nearly (but not actually) outstay their welcome in your heart. It seems like the most innocent, unassuming of stories but--trust me--it'll change your life, at least a little. For me, there's no greater admission than the fact that words can change lives, but Palmer's have changed mine; irrevocably.