It’s a hard knock life being a moody teenager, but being a moody teenager with a parallel life makes the knocks a lot harder.
That is the case presented in Ron Bass and Adrienne Stoltz’s first young adult novel, Lucid, in which 17-year old Maggie lives a charmed life as a burgeoning young actress in New York City. The trouble is Maggie goes to sleep every night and dreams that she is Sloane, a straight-A student living in the suburbs of Connecticut. Both of these girls dream of the other at night and envy what the other has, all the while questioning their own sanity.
Ultimately, it is these parallel lives that capture a fascinating portrait of realistic teenage anxiety amidst a backdrop of psychological suspense. The complex landscape leaves readers guessing whether there is a paranormal or mental illness element throughout the novel. These two worlds of Maggie and Sloane draw the reader in from the very first page as the opening line starts off with “My name is Maggie Jameson, or rather, Sloane Margaret Jameson…” Chapters interchange with Maggie and Sloane’s lives, as one girl falls asleep and the other lives in their dreams, giving the novel a vacillating and intriguingly divergent narrative structure.
Bass and Stoltz work together as screenwriters, which may play a role in the book’s succinct voices and confessional tone. Their characters are relatable in their modern-day prose, capturing the anxieties of adolescence and the never-ending hormonal surges. From their racing insecurities over potential love interests (“Do I really want Thomas, or just want him to want me?”) to sexual stirrings (“I love the way his lower lip is like a shelf carved out of something I’d like to touch.”), Maggie and Sloane give the novel a real sense of teenage colloquialism.
Maggie epitomizes the aspirational teen seen in the more materialistic young adult novels, as if she would be a plausible character in the Gossip Girl series by Cecily Von Ziegler. From namedropping chic New York restaurants like “Rose Bar,” and shoes like “Louboutin,” Maggie is the paradigm of the affluent fashion-forward teenager. These frivolous elements envelop the reader into a sense of exclusivity and New York joie de vivre.
On the other hand, or rather, life, Sloane is the relatable girl next door of the Taylor Swift genus, except with more dimensions outside of the “Boys are stupid!” mantra that Swift advocates. Sloane’s representation of normalcy gives the reader the same sense of envelopment that Maggie offers, without the frills. For a point of reference, Maggie is the Teen Vogue to Sloane’s Seventeen Magazine.
Deeper issues burrow into the girls’ psyches, which gives the novel a much-needed sense of depth that saves it from being too superficial. Sloane is still reeling from the recent death of friend, Bill, which is further complicated by being the object of desire for best friend Gordy, who she sees in a brother-like capacity. Maggie yearns for the normal life of Sloane, since her hectic life is exacerbated by the fact that her Elle Magazine editor of a mother is too busy to care for her and her little sister, Jade.
More introspectively, the economics of how these girls see each other points out gender through multiple and telling lenses. The female gaze plays into the novel in various ways as the girls objectify not just the male figures in their lives, but also themselves and their alternate dream personas. In one particularly telling scene, Sloane dreams of Maggie looking at her ballerina-like body in the mirror, critiquing herself as Maggie while envying her thinness and elegance as Sloane. This double-rainbow of multiple gazes gives the novel a sense of how body image and sexuality is formed in the novel; Sloane desires the aspirational actress body that Maggie has while Maggie dreams of having the curvaceous body of Sloane. Envy and feelings of inadequacy play huge roles in not just teenage body insecurity, but also in the mechanics of how the heterosexual female gaze operates. The commodification of looks in the novel reveals a theoretical approach to gender that can be read deeper from the surface.
Another aspect that differentiates this novel from being another YA cliché is the mental turmoil coupled with coming of age tropes. Maggie and Sloane evoke a sense of pathos in their struggles with keeping these dream lives a secret while quietly reveling in the triumphs of their alternative personas. However the novel’s tone grows increasingly more disturbing as the delicate walls separating the two lives begin to converge, which brings up another overarching conflict of reality versus fantasy. The girls constantly question which world is real and which isn’t, which subverts the trope of teenage insecurity in a more philosophical manner. By bringing mental instability into the equation, there are more stakes at risk which makes this book an even more compelling young adult read.
What the novels fails to address is how teenagers can seek treatment for psychological illness, regardless of whether the paranormal element plays into the novel. While Maggie’s mentions her turmoil to her therapist, she is treated with doubt and derision. This might turn off those looking to read more proactive depictions of resolving mental ills of the young, which seem especially relevant in today’s society. The novel unravels so many mental knots for the characters that it becomes difficult to tie them neatly back up in a socially responsible way.
Nevertheless, this book is juicy in the vein of reading the troubled diaries of two intriguing teenage girls. It is definitely the psychological suspense that makes the book worth seeking on the shelves of bookstores and libraries, despite its generic cover. For those who are fans of double narratives and psychological drama amidst trying to grow up as a teenage girl, this book is definite one to pick up and hard to put down.