I used to watch the TV show House all the time, especially after it went into syndication. I remember vividly when "Thirteen," the doctor played by Olivia Wilde, was faced with the dilemma of whether or not she should take the genetic test and find out if Huntington's Disease was in her future. Thirteen, aka Dr. Remy Hadley, was a woman walking on the razor's edge; deciding whether or not to find out if she was going to succumb to that horrific disease had her, understandably, in knots. She was terrified to find out but just as terrified not to know.
So, imagine coping with that kind of decision and its aftermath as an 18-year-old. That's the dilemma facing Tovah and Adina, the twin high school seniors in Rachel Lynn Solomon's moving novel You'll Miss Me When I'm Gone (Simon Pulse, 2018). Adina, a viola prodigy, and Tovah, whose main goal in life is to go to Johns Hopkins and become a doctor, do take the test, do find out the results, do have to come to terms with the consequences. How can 18-year-olds possibly confront their futures once they know who will live and who will die?
The Siegel sisters tell their stories in alternating chapters. Both girls are protagonists here, despite Adina's best efforts to be the antagonist. She tries her darnedest to ruin her sister's life, but her attempts to do so are just as much about self-pity as they are about hurting Tovah. Turns out, the only antagonist here is Huntington's Disease, which has already struck the girls' mother and turned their beloved Ima (Hebrew for "mother") into someone they barely recognize. One of the twins sees her future before her in the everyday struggles and inevitable decline of their mother. The other must live with the guilt of knowing she will not be struck by the disease, but will instead have to watch as another immediate family member deteriorates.
The sisters do not turn to one another for support after receiving their test results. They've hurt one another badly in the recent past and those wounds are still raw. Instead, Tovah seeks solace in her Jewish faith and her new boyfriend, artist/kind-kid/ubiquitous space-between-his- front-teeth-that-just-makes-him-cuter Zack. Adina tries to force true love into her relationship with her older viola teacher and contemplates suicide. She deludes herself about a number of things, as an 18-year-old is apt to do, so her story has a lot more edge and pathos than Tovah's. As I read, I kept wanting the sisters to just get everything out in the open to clear the air between them, but Solomon continually pushes the girls together and pulls them apart in a way that I found both poignant and frustrating. Fellow young adults will admire, relate to, and scorn this dance all at once, as young adults are apt to do.
You'll Miss Me When I'm Gone contains sex, sexual references, foul language, and all of the other trappings of a very real teenage life today. There's also quite a bit of transliterated Hebrew, which may annoy people who do not speak the language (I'm glad I do, so I didn't have to constantly stop my reading to find out what the girls and their parents were saying to one another). In any case, Tovah and Adina end up teaching one another lots of life lessons as they struggle to come to terms with their future selves. And they are, in the end, the antidote for one another's ails, which they do figure out. But not until after they put one another, and the reader, on the emotional roller coaster ride of late adolescence. Highly recommended.