Thursday, March 28, 2024

#Review - When I'm Her by Sarah Zachrich Jeng #Thriller #SyFy

Format: Paperback, 384 pages
Release Date: March 26, 2024
Publisher: Berkley
Source: Publisher
Genre: Science Fiction

How far would you go to get even with the woman who ruined your life?

In this electrifying thriller, a young woman gets everything she’s ever wanted—and everything she doesn’t—when she swaps bodies with her sworn enemy.

Though polar opposites, Mary and Elizabeth are as close as can be—until the night Elizabeth makes an irrevocable mistake and leaves Mary to take the blame. Years later, Elizabeth seems to have forgotten Mary exists.

Mary hasn’t forgotten her.

She follows Elizabeth’s every move online, obsessed with paying her back for the betrayal that cost Mary her dreams. Now Mary has found a way to switch bodies with Elizabeth, and she’s got a plan to steal her charmed life. Her career. Her looks. Her husband. 

They do say living well is the best revenge.

Or is it? The more Mary uncovers about Elizabeth’s life, the more she realizes she may have made a deadly mistake. And she'll need the help of her worst enemy to stay alive.

Sarah Zachrich Jeng's When I'm Her could be compared to Freaky Friday on steroids. The story alternates between two women, as well as flashbacks to 8 years ago. Elizabeth and Mary were roommates in college. Elizabeth was the gregarious gorgeous one. Mary was the one nobody saw, and pretty much overlooked. Mary was an intern for a company named Confluence Innovations which invented a device called Empathyer. The Empathyer was a pair of bracelets that look like smartwatches that can be worn by two separate people. 

It allows you to swap bodies and literally walk in the other person's shoes. Elizabeth urges Mary to steal a pair of Empathyzers to see if they work. Surprisingly, they do with minor issues with Mary in Elizabeth's body. Until Halloween 7 years ago, when Mary and Elizabeth swapped, and a sexual pervert named Garrett came onto the wrong woman which ended up with him falling down a flight of stairs. To this day, Detective Johns has always thought that Mary got away with assault, and he isn't going to let it go anytime soon.

The story is actually told in the past and the present the chapters are labeled: Mary (Elizabeth) and Elizabeth (Mary) the first name being the actual person and the second name in parentheses, being the body they are inhabiting. So, for 7 years, Mary has been obsessed with getting revenge on Elizabeth for allowing her to be blamed for what happened on Halloween while Elizabeth was inhabiting her body.

7 years after her expulsion from college, the victim's rich parents have successfully destroyed her life and taken away everything. She lives in squalor, and she has little money because it is taken from her each payday. Mary has been trying to pick up the pieces of her shattered life by avenging the person who ruined everything she worked for. Elizabeth, a highly popular, rich influencer, is living her dream life, married to Nate, the boy Mary fell for in college.

But without one of the Empathyzers, Mary has to bide her time. But finally, her prayers are answered by an anonymous benefactor who sends her the Empathyzer, which may help her switch bodies with Elizabeth and live her life to the fullest, just as Elizabeth might also take the blame for the death of her college nemesis who ruined her entire life. But what if Elizabeth's so-called happy life isn't exactly what it may seem? What if the only way to get out of this circumstance is to team up with her arch-nemesis to save both of their lives? 

I can honestly say that I didn't much care for either main character as well as certain secondary characters like Garrett, Nate, and Detective Johns who does everything he can to make Mary feel as though she's a criminal. I can sympathize with Mary but there are some things you need to say no to, especially your best friend who ends up costing you everything. Elizabeth should have never waited so long to do right by Mark, especially since she was far from living the perfect life. The ending of this book needs to be examined by a professional to see if it actually makes sense, and no, I will not spoil it for you.




I've just left my apartment, the cold hitting me like a snowball to the face, when Detective Johns appears.

I was never charged in connection with what happened that Halloween, but attempted murder doesn't have a statute of limitations. It kills me that I didn't see this coming.

As a child I hated when my parents said to "go play in the snow," because unsupervised time with other children never went well for me. It was only a matter of time until someone-often my brother, two years older and big enough that I could have fit stacked inside him like a matryoshka doll-would hold me down and force a handful of snow down my collar. Johns' attack is just as sudden, if more subtle. When he falls into step with me, I'm so startled, my worn boots slide out from under me on the icy sidewalk.

He grabs my elbow. "Watch yourself, now. Those slips and falls can really mess you up."

Did he just wink?

I jerk my arm from his grasp, too rattled to pretend I don't recognize him.

"Good to see you, Mary," he says. "It's been a while."

Seven years. Anthony Johns was the lead detective, a bald Black man with hunched shoulders who spoke in a deep, soothing voice. His voice is still soothing. His presence outside my building, not so much.

He smiles slightly. In contrast to my mismatched layers, his only outerwear is a black topcoat, unbuttoned to reveal the badge clipped to his belt. No hat shelters the shiny dome of his head from the cutting wind, yet he seems perfectly comfortable. Maybe the prospect of a new break in an old case is what warms him.

"What do you want?" I say.

"Every bit as direct as I remember." His tone is fond, as if he never told me I had nothing to gain by being a bitch. "Are you aware Garrett Deegan died a few months back?"

"Of an overdose."

The news made the rounds through Elizabeth's social media circles, people acting their asses off about what a great guy Garrett had been. How much they would miss him. How they'd had no idea of the demons he was battling.

Please. The only battles Garrett ever fought were against people with a fraction of his power. In my opinion, he lived a lot longer than he should have.

I don't say that to Johns, because I'm not stupid. Garrett's parents placed the blame for his near death-and subsequent decline into addiction-squarely on me. They are rich and powerful, so this makes life difficult. I'm not looking to make it unbearable.

Johns taps his chin. "Did you know illicit drug deaths are treated as homicides?" He plainly does not expect an answer. "Part of my investigation consists of just talking to people who knew the victim."

The victim. Just talking, my ass. "I haven't spoken to Garrett in years." I wasn't allowed to speak to him, even if I'd wanted to.

Johns' voice sharpens. "But you know how he died."

My mouth opens, to say what, I don't know. That I saw it on the internet, but Garrett wasn't the one I was spying on? Yeah, that wouldn't sound suspicious at all.

I snap my mouth shut. I of all people should know it's never a good idea to talk to the police.

Johns is blocking the way back to my building. I'm afraid that if I get on the bus that's pulling up next to us, he'll board it along with me.

"Do you have a minute to talk? In your apartment, maybe? Sure be a lot more comfortable than out here." Now he shivers, but we both know it's a performance. I'm already shaking my head. "Come on, now, Mary. I've just got a couple things I need you to clear up. You don't want to have to come up to the precinct and piss away half your day, do you?"

My chest tightens, lips going numb as the blood drains from my face. I've never been great at thinking on my feet. The bus pulls away, and there's that escape gone, along with any hope of being on time for my newest crappy job.


I whirl around, narrowly avoiding a face-plant situation, though this time Johns doesn't bother to help me. Behind us is Miguel, who lives in my building. Great. He's holding his phone vertically. I am so, so glad that my humiliation will be fodder for his @OBEPhDLife channel or whatever the fuck he has. Everyone's got a presence, no matter how obscure, and they're all just waiting for their viral moment.

But his eyes are narrowed in Johns' direction. He asks me, "Everything okay here?"

Johns puts on a warm but insincere smile. "Well, that's up to Ms. Burke-"

"Is she free to go?"

Johns glances at me, then at the phone, and for the first time seems less than in control. "You don't have permission to record-"

"I don't need it. We're on a public street. Is she under arrest?" Miguel's tone remains pleasant; it's the words that are incendiary.

Johns makes eye contact with me. "You should get your side of the story on the record before it comes to that."

"My side of the story? I don't have a story. I didn't have anything to do with it." I'm intentionally vague, because Miguel already knows more than he needs to about my sordid history.

"Then you've got nothing to worry about," Johns says. "You want to put this to bed, Mary, and now's the time."

He holds my eye. I try not to look away, but after a moment that feels much longer than it probably is, I have to.

Miguel's phone, and Miguel behind it, continues to bear witness.

Johns sighs. He brings out a card and extends it to me between two leather-gloved fingers.

"Give me a call when you get a minute. Among other things, I've got Garrett's people wondering where you were the night he passed, and I'm sure you want to allay that interest as soon as possible."

If he's trying to intimidate me, it absolutely works. Wordlessly, I accept the card, because that's how I push the detective out of my life for a little longer. Glancing at it, I see he works here in the city now. It's a common enough pipeline from the town where I went to college.

Where Elizabeth and I went to college.

"You planning any travel? Going home for the holidays?"

I don't imagine the mocking note in his voice. That particular trip hasn't happened for a long time. I shake my head, avoiding his eyes.

"Good. Let me know if you decide to leave town. Then I won't have to come after you."

Johns throws Miguel one last, irritated glance before striding off in his wing tips. Miguel and I watch him go, hoping he'll slip and fall on his ass. Or I'm hoping it, anyway.

Miguel puts his phone away and turns to me, which is my cue to scuttle back through the building doors and hopefully up the stairs before he gets a chance to ask any questions. I've decided I'm not going in to work. Under-the-table cleaning and call-center jobs aren't the easiest to get, but they aren't the hardest, and I don't need any more proof that leaving my apartment today was a bad idea.

Maybe staying here was the bad idea. I should have moved across the country years ago; then I wouldn't be in this mess.

But if I'd moved, I wouldn't live in the same city as Elizabeth.

"Mary, hold up!"

I can't flagrantly be a bitch, not when Miguel saved me out there. I stop in front of the mailboxes, most of which have broken locks, and sweep at least a week's worth of bills, payday-loan circulars, and whatever else into my bag.

"Thanks for stepping in," I say. "I think he had me confused with someone else, but cops never believe you when you tell them that."

Miguel's shaking his head while he grabs his own mail. "I hate how they throw their weight around." Usually he speaks in a mild drawl, but now his tone is sharp with indignation, which reminds me why he's the only person in this building I talk to voluntarily. We're not friends. I've never gotten the hang of making those, with that one unfortunate exception. Still, we've bonded somewhat over the fact that we're both from small, shitty towns, his in Florida and mine farther north.

"By the way," he says, "I've been meaning to say sorry about what happened with the job at the lab. Were you able to get your other job back?"

"No, but it's fine."

"Ah shit. I mean, I feel bad. We got your hopes up, and then-"

I make a cutting motion with my hand. "Forget it. Not your fault."

He rocks back on his heels, eyes on the floor; he's still troubled. Not much either of us can do about it, though, is there? "For the record," he says, "Dr. Ofori and I thought you were perfect for it. Just because the Deegans are donors doesn't mean they should have a say in staffing."

But they do. And the last thing Garrett's parents want is for me, the person who ruined their son's life, to have any security. The job wasn't fancy-glorified receptionist in a university research lab-but it offered that much, plus a possible alternate path to the goal I've been working toward. Failing at, rather.

That chance is gone now, and I'm still right where Brian and Rosemary Deegan want me. Scraping a living, looking over my shoulder.

I pretend to be absorbed in my phone so I won't have to make any more awkward conversation with Miguel, who murmurs a farewell and moves on to the stairs.

I'm worried. Johns might not have had enough to arrest me just now, but I've had the look in his eyes directed at me before. The look of a cop who's found his perp. I barely slipped his net last time, and that's got to have pissed him off.

It's always been a vendetta for the Deegans. And now their son isn't just broken; he's dead.

I have no idea what I was doing on the night of Garrett Deegan's alleged overdose. I'm not even sure which night it was-if the rumors are true, he wasn't actually found until a couple of days after the fact, when the housekeeper let herself in and encountered a little more than the usual post-party cleanup. Even if I could come up with an alibi, I'm not sure that would be enough against people who own a private jet and a couple of members of Congress.

I got the blame for Garrett's "accident" in college, and now I'm under suspicion in his "accidental" death. I know what a frame job looks like. This won't end well for me.

At root, this isn't the Deegans' fault. As shitty and destructive as they are, I can almost understand where they're coming from. First rule of the woods: don't fuck with mama bear's cub. Also, trying to fight them would be about as effective as using my bare fists against a grizzly's claws.

Elizabeth is the one who did this to me.

If I try, I can bring up a sense memory of rain pelting my head and shoulders, wet polyester sticking to my skin. The bone-deep chill from that night. We kept shivering long after we'd gotten back to the dorm. Elizabeth told me everything would be fine, but she lied.

And unlike the Deegans, she's not so high up that I can't take her down.




As soon as I get upstairs, I scroll down Elizabeth's profile. It's my daily-all right, multiple-times-daily-ritual: watching her flourish while I struggle.

There's a new post, a photo of her and Nate posed in front of their meticulously decorated Christmas tree, laughing into each other's faces. They're both so beautiful, it's easier to focus on them in pieces. White teeth, soft sweaters. Nate's shapely fingers tangled in the ends of Elizabeth's long red hair. The caption is some treacly bullshit about the importance of a sense of humor in marriage. She posted it two hours ago and there are already more than five hundred comments.

I switch apps and, for the fiftieth time, watch the tree-trimming video she posted last week. I've got every word memorized, the pitch of their laughter burned on my brain. Their voices echo from my phone's tiny speaker against the bare walls of my apartment, making the space seem emptier. I scrub backward so I can listen to Nate sing the first few bars of "Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire" one more time. I watch his mouth until Elizabeth adorably stuffs a cookie into it.

The video has twenty-something thousand comments, most in the vein of OMG U GUYS ARE GOALS!!!!, and it makes me want to throw up. Still, I scroll down to my own cartoonishly effusive comment, left from a fake account right after the video was first posted. Elizabeth, or her lackey, has acknowledged it with a heart. I switch back to her new post and leave a similar comment there.

The response (Thank you so much!! *sparkly heart emoji*) comes so quickly, I wonder if she's got some kind of answer bot set up, but I still get an unwelcome squirt of dopamine at being acknowledged by the great, the amazing, the perfect @bethybeth.

We met at the beginning of freshman year, matched as roommates, immediately inseparable. I'd never had that happen before. Other girls in my hometown had formed friendships as easily as breathing, but I'd always been a loner. Not by choice; it was as if everyone else was in on some secret from which I remained cut off, unable to understand a language they'd known since birth.

Yet, inexplicably, Elizabeth chose me. She scooped me up and, for a time, transformed my life. I transformed hers too. What would have happened to our friendship if it hadn't been for me? It was already starting to have run its course by the end of our first term, but I couldn't let it go.

A part of me has missed her every day since it ended.

No. I haven't missed her. I've missed being her. Speaking in her voice, walking around with her confident stride, having people look at me like I mattered. Life isn't fair; people aren't fair. That won't ever change. The rich get richer. The manipulative manipulate. Advantages accrue in one direction. And in this world, the right face can get you a hell of a long way, which is one reason I've been trying to take Elizabeth's for years.

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