Me Myself & Him reaches for some intriguing ideas, but is dragged down by flat characters and an unpleasant protagnist. A case of autobiographical fiction gone wrong. Two stars.

Book cover: ME MYSELF & HIM

When Chris Schweitzer takes a hit of whippets and passes out face first on the cement, his nose isn’t the only thing that changes forever. Instead of staying home with his friends for the last summer after high school, he’s shipped off to live with his famous physicist but royal jerk of a father to prove he can “play by the rules” before Dad will pay for college. 

Or . . . not.

In an alternate time line, Chris’s parents remain blissfully ignorant about the accident, and life at home goes back to normal–until it doesn’t. A new spark between his two best (straight) friends quickly turns Chris into a (gay) third wheel, and even worse, the truth about the whippets incident starts to unravel. As his summer explodes into a million messy pieces, Chris wonders how else things might have gone. Is it possible to be jealous of another version of yourself in an alternate reality that doesn’t even exist? 

With musings on fate, religion, parallel universes, and the best way to eat a cinnamon roll, Me Myself & Him examines how what we consider to be true is really just one part of the much (much) bigger picture. 

There’s a good chance the first thing you noticed about Me Myself & Him is the fact that the author, Chris Tebbetts, has the same first name as the main character, Chris Schweitzer.

Unless you’re like me, in which case you didn’t notice until you’d already read the first chapter. Because I’m that smart.

I hit request on this one because the cover was good enough to make up for the title, and, of course, because the split-timeline framework looked fresh and interesting. I kind of wish I had noticed the same-first-names thing beforehand, though. The fact that the author gave the main character (the first-person POV character, no less) his name might have clued me in about what I was in for. Maybe then I wouldn’t feel so dissapointed.

After I finished, I hunted around until I found an interview that addressed the Chris/Chris thing. It comes up quickly in this great interview by the Haunted Wordsmith at HW Book Nook and Cranny:

“The prologue of this book is autobiographical, about a drug-fueled accident I had at age nineteen, where I broke my nose and got into a lot of trouble with my parents, appropriately enough… [Naming Chris after the author] was a deliberate choice, of course, since this story is in some small part memoir, mixed with a much heavier dose of fiction. Beyond that, the book also draws on a lot of the emotional truths that were part of my experience at that age.”

Color me not surprised.

I figured, while reading, that Chris was written to closely reflect the author’s teenage self. Even beyond the name-sharing, he’s just that kind of character. That fingerprint is so clear that I’m not surprised he’s supposed to be a direct analog.

I love hearing YA authors compare and contrast their characters with their teenage self. It’s essential to be able to identify in those ways with your MC, especially if you’re writing a much younger character. But there’s a difference between drawing inspiration from your own life and taking an anecdote from your teenage years and copy-pasting into a novel.

Memoir-fiction blends can be compelling, rawly honest books. In this case, however, I fear the impulse to novelize this episode of his life led Chris Tebbetts astray. This origin story explains one of the book’s essential flaws: it completely fails to make the case for why this story is interesting. Of course you’d be invested in something that happened to you–it’s your life! It’s important! But that doesn’t mean it’ll be compelling for anyone else.

The book seems to take it for granted that this character and these events are interesting. It’s hard to ignore the sense that this has everything to do with its autobiographical nature–not to mention the long tradition of the Western canon’s insistence that anything that happens to a young, white everyman is interesting by definition.

Me Myself & Him never stops to show me why I should care about deeply mediocre Chris. It just charges forward with the story, assuming I’m impacted by the variations in this unremarkable life.

This is made worse by the fact that Chris’ mind is a deeply unpleasant place to be. He’s self-absorbed and nasty, and most pages are full of his uncharitable, knee-jerk assumptions about other characters. You can’t say that’s not realistic; he’s a teenager. Lots of teenagers (especially those as privileged as Chris) are self-absorbed and mean.

But realistic doesn’t mean compelling, and it doesn’t mean worth reading. I finished the book frustrated that I never got any payoff for the hours I spent inside Chris’ small mind. It would have been worth it if this character showed me something new, but Chris’ growth is minimal and I never get the sense that the book is pushing back against his flaws. Slice-of-life, average Joe characters work if they’re digging into something deeper, but Me Myself & Him can’t get past how ~important~ it finds Chris for his own sake.

The book’s saving grace might have been a cast of interesting secondary characters that contextualize Chris’ ignorance, but unfortunately, Chris is the only character that is fully drawn. The rest are flat mix-and-matches of stock characterization that only matter as side characters in Chris’ life, not as humans with their own interiority. (It’s unsurprising that this story, with a male-dominated cast, sidelines the female characters most of all.)

In the end, with little character development and no real story to tell, all Me Myself & Him is left with is the speculative framework. The author seems to be relying on the split-timeline structure to make the novel interesting, but that only serves to give the reader two poor contemporaries instead of one.

I do like the idea–it’s what drew me to the book. And there were moments when I could really see what Tebbets was going for. This kid had an idea of what the future would look like, and in one night, poof, that goes away. He’s having a completely different summer (and when you’re that age, a summer matters) than he thought, and he can’t let go of what might have been. The novel explores that directly–okay, then. What if the moment that changed everything went differently? It turns out that Chris’ imagined future still wouldn’t have happened; it just would have turned into something different. But how could he have known?

I can completely identify with that curiosity and longing. It’s a feeling that, for me, sits perfectly in that summer-before-college setting. I had very similar thoughts in my late teens, ruminating over the small choices that led me to people and experiences that meant everything… people and experiences I otherwise would have missed. The book reaches towards some great ideas when it’s a story about what might have been, and those moments kept it from being a one-star read for me.

But I can’t even think about those moments for very long before I start remembering how frustrating they became after a while. Tebbets doesn’t seem to trust his reader to understand what he’s going for, so he has his characters constantly bring up theories of the multiverse. It was clever the first couple times, but by halfway through the book, I couldn’t imagine what reader wouldn’t have gotten the picture by now.

It being June when I write this, I can’t close this review without bringing up the LGBT rep. Chris (the character, though I believe the author as well) is out as gay, and an m/m relationship plays a central role in the second half of the book. I don’t have many thoughts on the rep in this book–it didn’t strike me as particularly good or bad–but I’ll link some OwnVoices reviews if I find any that address it directly.

I received a digital review copy from the publisher via NetGalley in expectation of an honest review. No money changed hands for this review and all opinions are my own.

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