I'll Be You

A Novel

About the Book

Two identical twin sisters and former child actors have grown apart—until one disappears, in this “cleverly crafted and psychologically nuanced” (Time) suspense novel from the New York Times bestselling author of Pretty Things.
“An addictive thriller that will keep readers burning through pages . . . sneakily hypnotic.”—Los Angeles Times

ONE OF THE BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR: The New York Public Library, PopSugar

“You be me, and I’ll be you,” I whispered.

As children, Sam and Elli were two halves of a perfect whole: gorgeous identical twins whose parents sometimes couldn’t even tell them apart. They fell asleep to the sound of each other’s breath at night, holding hands in the dark. And once Hollywood discovered them, they became B-list child TV stars, often inhabiting the same role. 

But as adults, their lives have splintered. After leaving acting, Elli reinvented herself as the perfect homemaker: married to a real estate lawyer, living in a house just blocks from the beach. Meanwhile, Sam has never recovered from her failed Hollywood career, or from her addiction to the pills and booze that have propped her up for the last fifteen years. 

Sam hasn't spoken to her sister since her destructive behavior finally drove a wedge between them. So when her father calls out of the blue, Sam is shocked to learn that Elli’s life has been in turmoil: her husband moved out, and Elli just adopted a two-year-old girl. Now she’s stopped answering her phone and checked in to a mysterious spa in Ojai. Is her sister just decompressing, or is she in trouble? Could she have possibly joined a cult? As Sam works to connect the dots left by Elli’s baffling disappearance, she realizes that the bond between her and her sister is more complicated than she ever knew. 

I’ll Be You shows Janelle Brown at the top of her game: a story packed with surprising revelations and sharp insights about the choices that define our families and our lives—and could just as easily destroy them.
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Praise for I'll Be You

“Her twistiest and tightest work yet . . . I’ll Be You is a cleverly crafted and psychologically nuanced yin and yang, complete with crackling observations about celebrity, California cults, wellness culture, the fertility industry, and the undertow of addiction.”Time

“An addictive thriller that will keep readers burning through pages . . . sneakily hypnotic.”Los Angeles Times

“Sharply insightful, relentlessly suspenseful and simply unputdownable, I’ll Be You is Janelle Brown’s best novel yet.”Bookreporter

“Brown uses the concept of interchangeable personhood to great effect in this haunting psychological thriller.”CrimeReads

“A page-turner.”—Associated Press

“Brown’s investment in her characters and the family dynamic elevate I’ll Be You. . . . Brown engulfs the reader in the sisters’ lives.”—South Florida Sun Sentinel

“Janelle Brown is a terrific storyteller and stylist, and I’ll Be You is one of those books you’ll devour. It has a hot mess of a narrator—actually two hot messes, twins—both of whom you will root for, even as you are screaming at them to get a grip. Also? The novel has more twists and turns than the canyon roads that snake up and around Los Angeles.”—Chris Bohjalian, New York Times bestselling author of The Flight Attendant and Hour of the Witch

“In Janelle Brown’s latest twisty, propulsive mystery, estranged twin sisters must confront shocking pieces of their past when one of them goes missing. From the first sentence, these women will have you in their grips. You won’t be able to put this novel down, and you won’t want to.”—Laura Dave, New York Times bestselling author of The Last Thing He Told Me

“Janelle Brown has done it again, creating a deliciously twisty page-turner you won’t be able to put down. With her trademark beautiful writing, depth of emotion, and sharp insights, Brown explores the dangers that lurk behind the seductive worlds of Hollywood child stardom and self-help culture. I loved this novel.”—Angie Kim, Edgar Award–winning author of Miracle Creek

“Absolutely delicious . . . Janelle Brown is a surgeon of the complex relationships between women. I gobbled this up.”—Emma Straub, New York Times bestselling author of All Adults Here

“The perfectly paced emotional reveals of the twins’ shared history pull the reader toward fierce investment in Elli’s safety and the sisters’ reconnection. Brown has upped her game with this one.”Publishers Weekly (starred review)

“A delicious work of intrigue and suspense . . .  You won’t want to stop reading until you find out what’s happened.”Kirkus Reviews
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I'll Be You


On a Thursday night in July, 378 days into my latest bout of sobriety, my father called to tell me that my twin sister had gone AWOL. My sister and I hadn’t spoken in 379 days, so this came as news to me.

“She told us that she was going to a spa of some kind,” my father explained. “But she’s been gone almost a week already, and she’s not answering her phone. It all seems very strange.”

I found this unlikely. My sister had never done anything strange in her life. Elli—­married to a real estate lawyer, owner of a two-­story Spanish Revival just blocks away from the Santa Barbara beach where we played as children, a woman who coordinated her purse with her heels—­was the very definition of conventionality. Last time I was at her house I opened a drawer in the kitchen and found a banana slicer.

As for me: I was living in a near-­empty studio apartment in Hollywood, so close to the boulevard that I woke up most nights to the sounds of people vomiting in the bushes underneath my window. I was thirty-­two years old and slept on a futon, still crawling my way back from losing most everything I owned or loved in the years before. Fortunately, I still had my looks, some interesting tattoos, and a generous AA sponsor; and with these I’d found employment at a trendy café popular on social media for its latte art.

From semi-­famous child actress to milk-­foam Instagram model. That had been my life trajectory in a nutshell, a downward parabola precipitously accelerated by the excessive use of intoxicants.

When my father called, I was watching cooking show reruns and eating day-­old green curry straight out of the takeout container. It was nine o’clock and eighty degrees out, the air in my apartment still flaccid from the day’s heat. I stood by the air-­conditioning unit and ducked my head to let the whisper of coolant dry the sweat on the back of my neck.

“Let’s be real, Dad. This is Elli. She probably just got a bad facial peel and is hiding out until her skin heals. Nothing strange about it.”

“That’s what your mom said, too, but I can’t help worrying.” I heard a familiar note of concern and disdain in my father’s voice, a tone that was usually reserved for me. I’ll confess, I derived some perverse delight in drawing that out of my father: that I—­I—­might be the functional twin for once.

“What about Chuck? What does he think about all this?”

“Ah, well. He moved out a while back. They’re getting divorced.”

“Divorced?” I stood up abruptly, slamming my head against the edge of the air conditioner. Something squeezed tight in my chest, compressing my lungs.

“You still haven’t spoken, then, I take it.” Something had shifted in his voice, the pendulum of judgment swinging back ­toward me.

“No,” I said, squirming. “Not in a while.” Why was my father calling me anyway? My mother was usually the one who rang me up when something was amiss. Typically, I got a tentative quarterly voicemail, left at a time when I was most likely to be at work, though I noticed that she followed the café on Instagram and “liked” every photo of me.

A moment of hesitation. “And you—­you’re still . . . OK?”

“You mean, am I still sober? Yes. More than a year now.” The silence on the other end of the phone was stiff with disbelief. “Look, do you want me to text you a photo of my latest recovery medallion to prove it?”

“No, no, I trust you. We’re proud of you, honey.”

Was he? I didn’t quite believe it, and I couldn’t blame him for that, either, given the number of times that I had betrayed their pride in the past. We lapsed into silence, the bitter failures of the last two decades—­parenting and childing, alike—­leaking into the crack in our conversation.

It dawned on me then that there was a reason for my father’s phone call. “Wait, are you asking for my help with something?”

My father coughed lightly. “I don’t want to inconvenience you,” he said.

I had to stifle my laugh. I looked around the minuscule apartment that I called a home, barren of personal effects. My possessions these days consisted primarily of emotional baggage. My social life consisted of AA meetings, with an occasional foray into NA meetings. I had been treading water for so long that I relished the idea of having something—­anything—­to swim toward. It didn’t occur to me to legitimately worry about my sister; not yet.

“Not at all,” I offered graciously. “So what do you want me to do about Elli?”

“It’s not Elli, actually. What we need—­what your mom needs, really—­is for you to come help out with Charlotte. Your mother’s struggling a bit, physically I mean, and she’s been doing her best but Charlotte’s just starting to be too much for her to handle.”

This gave me pause. When you’ve spent the better part of a decade in various states of inebriation, it’s easy to forget names and faces. I ran this name through my spotty mental Rolodex, and came up empty-­handed. “I give up,” I said. “Who’s Charlotte?”

My father sighed, his patience with me finally at its end. “She’s your niece,” he said.


The next morning I asked my boss at the café for a week off. “I need to go home and help my parents take care of my niece,” I told Tamar, all trembly lips and damp eyes. The tears were probably unnecessary—­Tamar was also my AA sponsor, and had spent much of the last year listening to me rehash my family estrangement—­but I wasn’t about to leave anything to chance. It’s a neat trick, to cry on cue. Not all actors can do it.

I still missed being on set.

Tamar flicked a clot of coffee grounds from the front of her apron and gave me a hard look. “Is that such a good idea? That’s going to be triggering and you know it,” she said. Tamar was ten years older than me and composed entirely of sharp angles and visible tendons. Her eyes constantly darted around the room as she noted dirty tables, monitored the length of the line, judged the crema on a macchiato. She’d been a cokehead, a decade back, and old habits die hard. Or maybe we just choose the drugs that amplify the instincts we already have, that let us be our unedited selves: paranoid, slothful, amped-up, wild. Our ids cranked up to one hundred.

Tamar turned her focus to me, noting something in my eyes that made her squint suspiciously. “Maybe someone should go with you. I don’t think you’re ready.”

“You offering?”

“Point taken.” She gave me the time off and told me to go find a meeting when I got to Santa Barbara.

My parents lived ninety minutes away up the coast, in a tile-­roofed Mediterranean in the hills, not far from Rattlesnake Canyon. It was not the house that I’d been born in—­that had been a far more modest two-­bedroom bungalow in a neighborhood where you didn’t find hiking trails outside your back door. This particular home had materialized in high school, not long after my sister and I were cast as the stars of a middling Nickelodeon TV series. My mother had done quite well for herself, for a while, as manager of her daughters’ acting careers; better than I had done, it had to be said. Then again, any money she might have made off my career was probably better spent by her than by me, because she at least had a house to show for her percentage, while all I had for mine was an empty rental apartment and the scars on my psyche.

My mother was already standing in the garden when I pulled into the driveway. She wore a caftan printed with palm trees that billowed around her stout legs. A straw visor shaded her eyes, bright red curls neatly puffed into place. She waved both arms at me with an eagerness that bordered on aggressiveness. I hadn’t seen her since Christmas, which had mostly been fine, except for all the weeping.

“Darling!” She waited for me to approach and then threw her arms around me.

“Hi, Mom,” I said, and let her hug me for longer than felt necessary, considering. I guess she was relieved that at least one of her daughters wasn’t currently running rogue. She sniffled a little into my shoulder. She had grown smaller, I noticed, more askew. And when she turned to walk with me up the garden path I realized that she was limping a little.

“Osteoarthritis,” she said, noticing me noticing. “Just like your grandmother. You’ll have it, too, someday, I’m sure. It’s how all the women in our family go.”

I’d spent so many years skating right to the edge of death and then leaping back that it was strange to imagine my demise as a slow natural decline. Our parents’ bodies mirror our eventual mortality, unless we divert the paths ourselves. God knows I’d tried.

About the Author

Janelle Brown
Janelle Brown is the New York Times bestselling author of Pretty ThingsWatch Me Disappear, All We Ever Wanted Was Everything, and This Is Where We Live. An essayist and journalist, she has written for VogueThe New York TimesElleWiredSelfLos Angeles TimesSalon, and more. She lives in Los Angeles with her husband and their two children. More by Janelle Brown
Decorative Carat