Review by Deborah Vail
Orca Sounding Books, August 2020
137 pages, paperback, Hi-Low $10.95 CAD, 978-1459-8238-15
Young Adult, Contemporary Realism
It’s not about the money. It’s not even about winning or losing. It’s about hating myself, punishing myself and then seeking redemption in all the wrong ways.
Imagine being so smart that, at eighteen, you’re already in your second year of university. Your goal is medical school, and with a supportive family, good looks, a hot boyfriend, and a best friend who just happens to be your twin sister, what could possibly go wrong?
But Ester “Essie” Tomasi is her own worst enemy while her twin, Aggie, is doing everything right. Essie sees herself as the dark one—the one with an unhealthy brain. Told in first person, present tense, Double or Nothing offers an intimate perspective into Essie’s gambling addiction as it threatens to derail her promising life.
We meet Essie when she is already in a sticky situation because of her addiction, but she has options that could get her life back on track. Possessed by something stronger than her own free will, she turns away from the right choices and moves closer to the dark hole she seems destined to fall into.
Author Brooke Carter maneuvers this complicated plot using accessible language that keeps pace with the tension of a high stakes poker game. With strong verbs and sharp adjectives, she invokes a sense of urgency that heightens the many threats to her main character, creating vivid imagery of the dangerous places Essie finds herself both physically and emotionally. While reading, I caught myself yelling at the page: “Don’t do it Essie, get out of there fast!” There were times I feared there was no coming back for her, but, as with all good storytellers, Brooke Carter adds an unexpected plot twist that keeps the adrenaline pumping. Fast-paced and intense, this novel is a page-turner with well-crafted and believable characters.
As Essie spirals out of control, her intrigue with Shakespeare brings to the forefront strong themes of betrayal, love, and loss. Her tragedy is no different than the characters in Hamlet, and when Aggie puts herself in harm’s way to save Essie, family, loyalty, and trust are put to the test. Is Essie’s love for Aggie enough to kill her demons? I appreciate how the author manages the topic of addiction without judgment or rationalization. Her representation of family is tender without being sappy, and her powerful depiction of first love is the spark of light in this story that is packed with so many broken promises.
Double or Nothing is a fantastic novel for anyone who has been caught in the dark tunnel of self-loathing and addiction. Yet, at the same time, Essie’s story is also about loyalty, forgiveness, and acceptance of the imperfections we all suffer from.
Deborah Vail is an Alumni of the UBC, MFA program. Her writing had appeared in several Canadian magazines.