Genre: Young Adult Paranormal Fiction
When Kat's boyfriend of two years dies suddenly, just hours after saying "I love you" for the first time, Kat sinks into depression. Then Adam appears in the woods near the site of his death. This isn't a ghostly specter; it is in every way like the living, breathing Adam (complete with heartbeat and physical urges), so much so that Kat is not even scared. She's just thankful to have him back, even in this unconventional way, where she has to sneak behind the backs of her parents and best friend.
But Adam's twin brother, Eric, begins to move in on Kat's heart. Despite his rough past and his secrets, Kat begins to find her hatred of him lessen and her interest in him increase. She struggles with these new emotions, wondering if it means she's cheating on Adam, or if she's simply moving on and ready to love again. If Adam were truly gone, it would clearly be the latter. But he's there, frozen in time in the woods, with nothing to do but await her next visit.
Understudy is a unique spin on the finding-love-after-loss story. It is even unique as a ghost story because Adam is so alive in every way. While I had a hard time understanding why someone who was dead would have a heartbeat, I certainly liked the idea that he would be stuck there in the woods with nothing to do but wait for Kat (almost a pergatory). In the book, even Adam doesn't really understand, and calls it "his ghostly situation." I could see how, after some initial confusion, Kat could get to a place where her main concern about Adam's new state would be, as she says, "the constant fear of waking up one day to find the woods empty."
I much preferred "the evil twin," Eric, since the book spent more time developing his character than "the good twin," Adam. This was because Kat is discovering Eric throughout the book, and already knows Adam very well, so the reader discovers Eric along the way with Kat. I found the relationship with the parents could be fleshed out more, but the relationship with her best friend Sarah is very well done. Their conversations, arguments, teasing, and even mannerisms are so realistic to any long-standing friendship.
One of my favorite things about the book is this: the author has a lot of clarity on the feeling of loss. She explores the unwanted spotlight that loss directs at the grieving person (everyone looks at Kat with pity, and really she just wants to be ignored and left alone in her sorrow), as well as the desperation to have any sliver of the loved one (this might be holding on to scraps of paper with their writing, but for Kat it is holding on to the ghost of Adam, desperate that his ghost might leave).
Overall, Understudy is a unique book explores death and loss and what is worth living for in a new way, and I enjoyed it.