Click here to read reviewer Michael Leonard's take on Everything You Want Me to Be.
Mejia’s tale is filled with the promise and confusion of youth. A talented young woman, a soon-to-graduate high school student and budding thespian, Hattie Hoffman is in love with acting and with life. It is all the more shocking, then, when Hattie becomes the focus of this story as it shifts from giddy success to tragedy: she dies on the eve of her debut as Shakespeare’s Lady Macbeth. Hattie shares her story, but before the murder, when such an ending is unimaginable. The chapters shift between before and after, in the voices of the brilliant actress, the local sheriff, Del Goodman, and an English teacher, Peter Lund, who has recently returned to Minnesota so that his wife, Mary, may attend her dying mother on the family farm. The Lunds have come to Pine Valley from the city, Peter anxious to return, while Mary settles comfortably into the familiar routines of her childhood.
The heart of the novel is in Pine Valley, where Hattie blooms as a beloved daughter. While her brother is in Afghanistan, Hattie brings comfort to her mother, though ever the apple of her father’s eye. The kind of young woman who automatically brings a smile to everyone’s face, Hattie has many friends, the star that draws every eye as she performs on stage. Hattie has been practicing all her life, imagining roles and perfecting her skills, adept at shifting from one identity to another. Spirited and a little stubborn, this is a girl confident she will have the future she dreams of, one day on the stage in New York.
The story unfolds simply, couched in the teenage world of a girl on the cusp of womanhood walking a fine line between a teen’s first romance and the true love. It is Del Goodman who gets the call to investigate the activity at an isolated old barn near a small lake used only for teen rendezvous, the perfect place for couples to steal away and be alone. After discovering Hattie’s lifeless body, Del dreads the duty of notifying her parents. It is a heartbreaking task, certain to shatter his friend’s heart. At the same time, he must draw a line between his empathy and the unfolding investigation. Within hours the news spreads, the whole town enraged by Hattie’s possible murder. They are furious, resolute in their demands for answers.
Other characters complete the recent months of Hattie’s life: her friend Portia, also in the drama class; her boyfriend, Tommy, a hulking football player thrilled that Hattie should choose him as her guy. She is out of his league, but he is eager to do her bidding, accepting the limitations on her time that drama practices require, though sometimes impatient with her devotion to acting. Hattie easily becomes a favorite of her drama teacher, Mr. Lund, clearly the brightest star in her class, the clear choice for the lead role of Lady Macbeth in the final play before graduation. She is one of those rare students meant to make a mark on the world. Lund vacillates between his absorption with the upcoming drama and the struggles with his home life. Mary is becoming increasingly attached to the farm even as her mother’s health is failing. He fears Mary will never agree to return to the city.
While sharing their parts of the story, each of the protagonists describes the particularities of private life in a small town--the challenges, choices, and responsibilities, the bonds of commitment. The author threads the disparate pieces together beautifully, the daily ritual, hopes, and disappointments that blend, sometimes smoothly, sometimes painfully, but always touched with the brightness of Hattie Hoffman, memorable to everyone she knows. There is impulsiveness, joy, naiveté, danger, and that tragic, irrevocable moment when a life is snuffed out. Written with insight and compassion, this small-town tragedy is a poignant portrait of humanity, a powerful rendering of the fine line between innocence, culpability, and the nature of identity.