Ryan can’t seem to get her memories in order. When she breaks it off with her long-term boyfriend, Corey, she can’t help but feel free. But mysterious events keep Ryan asking, “Just what happened?” After her family moved to Ryton, after Carter goes missing, after Jacob is in the hospital. All of these afters, but Ryan can’t remember the befores. With Harper and Elliot by her side, Ryan can only hope that she does not forget… again. Will Ryan be able to recover her memory to figure out what happened when it all went dark?
As soon as I read this synopsis, I knew I wanted to read this book. I’m a big sucker for memory-related mysteries and this promised to be a book full of them, jam-packed into a psychological thriller that would have me devouring chapter after chapter.
So… When I initially began reading, I couldn’t help but ask, what have I gotten myself into? The preconceived notion that I got from the synopsis was immediately challenged at the start of the first page. It made me want to read more, and the more I read, the more questions I had. I didn’t expect the immediate, gritty murderous POV, and it had me wondering and wanting to find out how it related to Ryan and her circumstances. Where would these stories converge?
Not Like Everyone Else by Jennifer Leigh follows the story of Ryan Callan, a young woman fresh out of a breakup with her abusive ex. It takes us on a journey through this dual-POV that features Ryan desperately trying to get her life back to normal and the inner workings of a sadistic, twisted killer. We see Ryan in the aftermath of her ill-fated romance, moving back in with her parents, building friendships out of the trauma that she endured at the hands of her ex, all the while having strange and inexplicable lapses of memory that push her into a murder-mystery that has all the fingers pointing at her.
Overall, I thought that the premise was not only unique but an interesting take on memory loss as a way to facilitate mystery and tension that arcs over a whole novel. Ryan doesn’t understand why others seem to know more about her surroundings than she does, and it leaves you (and Ryan) questioning what’s really going on through the story. Is Ryan the killer? Is it her best friend? Her new beau? What are we missing that leaves us with as many questions as Ryan at the end of a chapter? It was compelling in a way that a mystery/thriller needs to be.
Where Not Like Everyone Else‘s compelling nature falters, however, lays with other story elements that I thought weren’t handled as well as this overall premise was. I admit that in this interest garnered by the overarching plot, I was distracted by lackluster characterization, iffy pacing, and minor issues with editing. Initially, it was hard to connect the given premise with the dual-POV and how it related to the story, and there were times where it was hard to discern the tone of this novel. Was it going to be gritty and dark? Was it going to be more light mystery with an element of danger and hints of romance? Often I found that the story felt like it didn’t know what it was trying to do.
All in all, Not Like Everyone Else was an interesting, enjoyable read. I would love to see what Jennifer Leigh has in store for the future.
I was very impressed with Not Like Everyone Else’s premise. Ryan, the main character, has a condition that causes her to forget traumatic events that happen to her. Following a childhood trauma involving a man breaking into her family home, Ryan is diagnosed with a disassociative amnesia and develops an aggressive streak thought to have been triggered by her trauma. We get to see this through the story, where there will be times that Ryan snaps at people unexpectedly and out of character and in the way her parents worry about her doing something horrible, something that Ryan doesn’t understand because she’s not aware of her own condition. Pulling in elements of mental illness and the lingering trauma of abuse was delicately handled and relatable in a way that’s sometimes hard to find in psychological thrillers.
As I state in my spoiler-free section, where my disconnect happens is in the other elements of Not Like Everyone Else. I often found myself questioning certain character’s actions because there simply hadn’t been a precedent set for those actions. Ryan being so trusting of Elliot, when we’ve been told and shown that she’s not interested in kindling a romance both in her stating that and in the way she reacted to Carter coming on to her seems a hamfisted way of sliding romance into the story, and Jacob’s semi-abduction of Harper when they can’t find Carter feels more like needless drama than a truly tension-filled moment in the story because there’s not a lot of characterization given to Jacob outside of being a horndog. I was left wondering what exactly about Jacob’s personality would lead him to bind and gag his girlfriend because he thought his friend was missing.
This follows through a lot in the set-up of relationships in general in Not Like Everyone Else. We’re told that Harper and Ryan become friends, but there’s not a lot of development toward that point that would lead to the fulfilled conclusion that Harper and Ryan mean something to each other. As a reader, I found myself asking “why are these two friends?” “What’s bringing them together?” with no answers, and while I think the mention of them using each other was an interesting one, it felt almost like that relationship type should have been the one followed through. It was much the same with Ryan and Elliot’s relationship, one that started rather quickly in spite of Ryan’s own affirmed reservations of beginning a new relationship so soon after breaking up with Corey, yet there’s this instant love element (and certainly quick exchanges of I love you) that didn’t feel like they were earned through the narrative.
This issue with characterization and pacing bled into the ending for me, we as well. This was a fast-paced read, but I feel to the detriment overall of getting to the end goal: the revelation of the murderer and the murderer’s demise. Corey being the murderer wasn’t too much of a let-down; he fit the part. I found his characterization a little on the nose with his villainy, but where I was most disappointed in was in Harley’s involvement. There’s a lot of evidence that points to Ryan being the murderer, and at several instances, I could question whether it was perhaps Harper that was using her, or maybe even Elliot. It was interesting and created dynamic tension, whereas the inclusion of Harley as the actual villain didn’t feel properly utilized. I would have loved to have seen more interaction or foreshadowing for there to have been that true betrayal moment pay off in the end.
Despite the critique, I enjoyed reading Not Like Everyone Else. While it had its issues for me, it kept me wanting to know what was happening. I never found my bored and at a few points, I was quite entertained. This was a truly unique work.