I Am Not Who You Think I Am is book #5 of author Eric Rickstad, all of which we’ve reviewed here at PopMythology. You can re-cap our takes on his previous works, What Remains of Her, The Names of Dead Girls, The Silent Girls, and Lie in Wait. But while Rickstad has already made his way into our top authors list for mystery/thrillers, his newest work has added gravitas with a whole new dimension of psychological drama.
I Am Not Who You Think I Am begins with a suicide. A father shoots himself in his home. The tragedy is accidently witnessed by his son, Wayland, dismissed early from school with an upset stomach. Wayland is eight years old, old enough to comprehend but not yet sufficiently mature to understand. His mother’s way of coping was to remove all traces of his father from their house. All Wayland has left is a cryptic suicide note he found near his father’s body and hid from his mother.
The events of the book take place eight years later. The broken family has not thrived. Wayland’s mother has done her best to make ends meet working multiple low paying jobs, but in doing so has remained emotionally inaccessible to the family in the wake of their tragedy. His younger sister has turned to alcohol, drugs, and an abusive relationship to fill the void. Wayland, now sixteen, seems to be hanging on a bit better. But, as a long-term friendship starts to sour with typical teenage angst, Wayland becomes untethered from any support source. The trauma of his father’s suicide bubbles to the surface and now, on the cusp of adulthood, he begins to seek that long-delayed understanding.
It begins with that suicide note Wayland kept all these years, which reads, “I am not who you think I am,” and the resurfaced memory of his father sitting on the bed, just prior to shooting himself. There are questions, and Wayland starts to ask them… What does that note mean? Who was the note for? Where was his mom, oddly absent, that day? Why did she take such pains to purge his father’s effects so rapidly and thoroughly? After all these years, should he share the contents of his father’s note with her? Can he trust her? And, most crucially, why would his father take his own life?
The story that follows is a thriller, a dark mystery with many unexpected and entertaining twists and turns. The book is, without question, a compelling read. But, far beyond the entertainment of an expertly crafted story, there is an arc of deep sadness and loss as the reader is drawn into the psychology of how a teenager, suffering from past trauma, is pulled down by the weight of it into a destructive spiral. This is another very solid addition to an already impressive oeuvre by one of our favorite contemporary authors.