Him or Me
Philip gets onto the wrong metro train and ends up in some suburb, where he discovers that he has a double, a boy who looks eerily like him: Olaf. But Olaf behaves very differently than Philip. Philip is a decent guy, who lives with his parents in a posh house, in the wealthy south of Amsterdam. Olaf lives with his divorced mum in a shabby flat in the north of the city. He spends most of his time out on the streets and is always short of cash. He’ll do whatever it takes to get it.
Hij of ik (Him or Me), Dirk Weber’s third book for young adults, is a variation on the classic tale of the prince and the beggar, but it’s a very bleak one. When his parents go on holiday without him and he stays with his ill grandmother for two weeks, Philip realises for the first time that Olaf is stealing his identity. Olaf uses Philip as an alibi when he goes shoplifting and later hides a suspicious package with him. In return, Olaf teaches Philip to ride a “borrowed” scooter and, without being asked, he breaks the nose of Philip’s most hated enemy at school. But Philip begins to worry that Olaf is planning to make a move on his gran’s pension.
At first glance, Hij of ik appears to be a socially realistic story about teenagers who don’t receive enough attention from their divorced or overworked parents and so end up on the wrong path. However, this YA novel soon reveals itself to be a surprisingly sharp thriller with a creepy edge. Philip knows he’ll have to get rid of this dangerous ghetto version of himself. But how?
Weber impresses with his short, focused sentences. Every detail counts and he describes everything with a powerful charge that never lets up. This is not a writer who wants to show off how beautifully he can write, but a storyteller who is completely sure of his craft. Readers may only realise in the final chapters that they’ve been on completely the wrong track. There’s only one bad thing about this book: the excitement could have gone on for even longer.