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Understudy    by Carole Bellacera order for
by Carole Bellacera
Order:  USA  Can
Forge, 2003 (2003)

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* *   Reviewed by Rashmi Srinivas

There couldn't have been two more dissimilar girls in college than roommates Amy Shiley and Robin Mulcahey. Physically they are both blonde and blue eyed. In background, financial situations and personality, they are as different as night and day. Robin, the more daring, is always up to mischief and passionate about acting. Amy is a scholarship student. Effervescent, outgoing Robin is determined to be best friends with her shy roomie, and Amy can't resist her.

Where Robin leads, Amy follows. Although Amy doesn't like Robin's growing drinking habit or her too open attitude towards sex, she still loves her best friend and accompanies her wherever and whenever possible. During holidays, Robin insists that Amy join her in a visit home to her family. Robin's insolence towards her parents shocks Amy and she's puzzled at the defiance and pain underlying Robin's actions. Robin's family appears picture perfect to Amy, herself deprived of a normal home and family life, and she envies her friend.

But Robin herself seems clueless and careless about her good fortune, only caring for her elder brother Paul. Amy soon develops a massive crush on Paul, who unfortunately regards her as another sister. Or does he? One fateful night, Amy and Robin are involved in a terrible car accident. One of them dies and the survivor finds herself assuming the other's identity. Why does she do it? Can such a secret last? What will happen when the truth is revealed?

Carole Bellacera's Understudy takes a novel approach. Two girls, similar in appearance but from different backgrounds and with vastly dissimilar motivations, become friends. Each secretly envies the other, for their own reasons. When opportunity presents itself, one of them becomes the other. This is presented convincingly with loopholes neatly filled. The author's imaginative writing grabs the attention and the extraordinary plot developments kept me glued to the pages.

I found the first half of the book, about the developing friendship and the myriad of emotional upheavals of two utterly different college room mates, more interesting than the hijinks which characterize the second half, even though the real story development happens here. Overall, Understudy is entertaining while not entirely probable.

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