Twice the Joy or Double the Trouble?: Twins in Fiction and Film

The sibling bond is powerful in fiction, but the twin bond is doubly so.

Twins abound in mythology and fairy-tales and scientists scholars and generally much of society has a strong fascination with siblings born at the same time. There is also a long history of mystical, fantastic and sometimes sinister associations with twins, especially of the identical kind.

When it comes to stories, twins offer all sorts of delicious possibilities. They might be separated at birth—or when older.  Some are not aware they have a twin or get on a quest to find the lost twin, once they find out. They might have their own private language, or a psychic bond that singletons can only envy. They might be mistaken for one another (though their personalities may be dramatically different), switch places, or they might be dependent on each other.  To bring an element of darkness, perhaps one is an evil twin and they’re pitted against each other. 

Here are some engaging books and movies that feature twins in their narratives, all available with your Livingston Library card.

The Accidental Beauty Queen by Teri Wilson

Charlotte and Ginny Gorman might look alike but they’re completely different in every other way. Bookish Charlotte loves her job as an elementary school librarian, while her twin sister is an Instagram-famous beauty pageant contestant. Ginny has been chasing a crown since she was old enough to enunciate the words world peace, and she’s not giving up until she’s crowned Miss American Treasure. Dragging Charlotte to the pageant with her for good luck, Ginny’s winning plan goes awry when she has a severe allergic reaction to dinner the night before the competition. A trip to urgent care confirms that she won’t be back in beauty queen form for at least three days. After a few tears and a whole lot of begging, Charlotte agrees to take her sister’s place in the pageant. Overnight, she’s thrown into the glittery world of hair extensions, false eyelashes, and push-up bras.

The Au Pair by Emma Rous

Seraphine Mayes and her twin brother Danny were born in the middle of summer at their family’s estate on the Norfolk coast. Within hours of their birth, their mother threw herself from the cliffs, the au pair fled, and the village thrilled with whispers of dark cloaks, changelings, and the aloof couple who drew a young nanny into their inner circle. Now an adult, and mourning the recent death of her father, Seraphine begins to go through his belongings, when she uncovers a family photograph that raises dangerous questions. It was taken on the day the twins were born, and in the photo, their mother, surrounded by her husband and her young son, is beautifully dressed, smiling serenely, and holding just one baby. Who is the child and what really happened that day? Someone knows the truth, if only Seraphine can find her.

Beside Myself by Ann Morgan

Ellie and Helen are identical twins who switch places as a game when they’re six years old. Helen is the good girl, the favored daughter—or at least, she always has been, up until the point where Ellie insists on keeping Helen’s identity by refusing to switch back. The repercussions for each girl highlight just how much people’s subconscious expectations affect children’s behavior. Years later, as an adult, Helen receives a phone call that might just lead to the original deception finally being exposed.

Beside Myself by Marianna Salzmann 

A disturbing and exhilarating story of a family across four generations. At its heart is one woman’s search for her twin brother. When Anton goes missing and the only clue is a postcard sent from Istanbul, Ali leaves her life in Berlin to find him. Without her twin, the sharer of her memories and the mirror of her own self, Ali is lost. In a city steeped in political and social changes, where you can buy gender-changing drugs on the street, Ali’s search–for her missing brother, for her identity–will take her on a journey for connection and belonging.

The Grammarians by Cathleen Schine

A comic love letter to sibling rivalry and the English language follows the experiences of identical twins whose respective literary careers are upended by their battle to claim an heirloom dictionary.

Her Fearful Symmetry by Audrey Niffenegger

When Elspeth Noblin dies, she leaves everything to the 20-year-old American twin daughters of her own long-estranged twin, Edie. Valentina and Julia, as enmeshed as Elspeth and Edie once were, move into Elspeth’s London flat and through a series of developing relationships a crisis develops that could pull the twins apart.

Identical by Scott Turow

State Senator Paul Giannis is a candidate for Mayor of Kindle County. His identical twin brother Cass is newly released from prison, 25 years after pleading guilty to the murder of his girlfriend, Dita Kronon. When Evon Miller, an ex-FBI agent who is the head of security for the Kronon family business, and private investigator Tim Brodie begin a re-investigation of Dita’s death, a complex web of murder, sex, and betrayal-as only Turow could weave-dramatically unfolds.

The Kids Are Gonna Ask by Gretchen Anthony

The death of Thomas and Savannah McClair’s mother turns their world upside down. Raised to be fiercely curious by their grandmother Maggie, the twins become determined to learn the identity of their biological father. And when their mission goes viral, an eccentric producer offers them a dream platform: a fully sponsored podcast called The Kids Are Gonna Ask. To discover the truth, Thomas and Savannah begin interviewing people from their mother’s past and are shocked when the podcast ignites in popularity. As the attention mounts, they get caught in a national debate they never asked for–but nothing compares to the mayhem that ensues when they find him.

The Memory Keeper’s Daughter by Kim Edwards

This stunning novel begins on a winter night in 1964 in Lexington, Kentucky, when a blizzard forces Dr. David Henry to deliver his own twins. His son, born first, is perfectly healthy, but the doctor immediately recognizes that his daughter has Down syndrome. Rationalizing it as a need to protect Norah, his wife, he makes a split second decision that will alter all of their lives forever. He asks his nurse, Caroline, to take the baby away to an institution and never to reveal the secret. Instead, she disappears into another city to raise the child herself. So begins this beautifully told story that unfolds over a quarter of a century–in which these two families, ignorant of each other, are yet bound by the fateful decision made that winter night long ago

99 Percent Mine: a novel by Sally Thorne

From the author of USA Today-bestseller The Hating Game comes a poignant and witty romantic comedy about a twin battling her brother over their crumbling inheritance — and his sexy best friend who is determined to knock down her walls.

The Switch by Sandra Brown

Identical twins Melina and Gillian Lloyd haven’t considered switching places since childhood. So when Melina proposes that Gillian take her place as a media escort to NASA astronaut Col. “Chief” Hart, she refuses . . . at first. The following morning Melina receives terrible news: her sister has been brutally murdered — and Chief, though innocent, is the prime suspect. He and Melina are determined to find the killer, a megalomaniac who’s nearly unstoppable — and out for blood. Now, with targets on their backs, they must work together to learn the truth behind Gillian’s death — before they become the killer’s next victims.

The Third Twin by Ken Follett

Steve and Dan appear on paper to be identical twins, but when they come to the attention of genetics and criminality researcher, Jeannie Ferrami, she can’t explain why the records suggest they were born to two different mothers, two weeks apart. Steve is a law student and Dan is a convicted murderer. Jeannie embarks on a relationship with Steve, but when he too is accused of a terrible crime, her loyalties are tested, and her investigation begins to uncover a wide-reaching conspiracy involving genetic experiments.

The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield

Adeline and Emmeline are out-of-control twins growing up in a wealthy but unstable family. The bond between them is powerful and, at times, destructive. The book opens with a reclusive author, approaching the end of her life, deciding to tell the truth—or at least, part of the truth—about her disturbing childhood. She convinces her reluctant biographer to listen to her tale, and her memories take her back to Angelfield, her family’s estate, long since burnt to the ground under mysterious circumstances. The identity of Adeline and Emmeline, and the exact relationship between them, is more complicated than the biographer at first understands, and gradually the elderly author reveals the dark secrets that have haunted her all her life.

Two Little Girls in Blue by Mary Higgins Clark

Three-year-old twins, Kathy and Kelly, are kidnapped in Connecticut for an eight million dollar ransom. Kelly is recovered when the ransom is paid, but her parents are told that Kathy was inadvertently killed. However, the twins have an apparent telepathic connection, so when Kelly starts to describe her sister feeling scared and wanting to come home, it’s impossible to resist the hope that the missing child may in fact still be alive.

Movies featuring Twins

Big Business with Bette Middler and Lily Tomlin

Comedy about two sets of identical twins who are mismatched at birth, and forty years later their paths cross in Manhattan at New York’s Plaza Hotel.

I Love You Both with Kristin Archibald, Lucas Neff, and Doug Archibald

Twins, Krystal and Donny, have been codependent their entire lives, still living together in their late twenties in a converted one bedroom house. When they both meet and start dating the same guy, they remain in denial about the fact that they’re both dating him until he picks only one of them, forcing them to confront that they can no longer live the same life.

The Identical with Blake Rayne, Ray Liotta, and Ashley Judd

During the Great Depression, identical twins are separated at birth. One, Drexel Hemsley (Blake Rayne) becomes a wildly successful ’50s rock star, while the other, Ryan Wade (also Rayne), struggles to balance his passion for music and pleasing his parents, who want him to become a preacher. Finally, Ryan rebels against his parents’ wishes and launches his own music career — performing the hits of Drexel Hemsley. Ryan later learns the truth about Drexel when their fates tragically collide.

Legend with Tom Hardy and Emily Browning

The true story of the rise and fall of London’s most notorious gangsters, Reggie and Ron Kray, both portrayed by Tom Hardy in an amazing double performance.  It is a classic crime thriller taking viewers into the secret history of the 1960s and the extraordinary events that secured the infamy of the Kray twins.

The Parent Trap with Lindsay Lohan, Dennis Quaid, and Natasha Richardson

Hallie Parker, a hip Californian, and Annie James, a proper London miss (both played by Lohan) are identical twins who don’t even know each other exists — until they accidentally meet at summer camp. Now they’re up to their freckles in schemes and dreams to switch places, get their parents (Dennis Quaid and Natasha Richardson) back together, and have the family they’ve always wished for.

Stuck on You with Greg Kinnear and Matt Damon 

Written and directed by the non-twin Farrellys, Walt and Bob Tenor are brothers who are so close, they’re quite literally joined at the hip. While life in their sleepy, welcoming Martha’s Vineyard burgh is comfortable — the Tenor brothers are the quickest short-order chefs in town, unstoppable hockey goalies, and the most unlikely pair of dinner-theater thespians — Walt longs to make good on his lifelong dream of becoming a professional actor. The shy, reticent Bob acquiesces to his self-assured brother’s wish to move to Hollywood, in part to meet his longtime Internet romantic interest, May (Wen Yann Shih). The twosome finds Tinseltown to be less accommodating than life back east, however, as Walt and Bob come up against flea-ridden apartments, surly bar patrons, and a paucity of roles for actors with an extraneous person attached to them. Things begin to look up when they run into Cher on a studio backlot: Eager to end her commitment to star in a cheesy detective show, she casts Walt as her co-star, hoping the program will fail. When her plan backfires, however, the brothers find themselves on the cusp of fame and fortune — and consider undergoing the risky surgery that could separate them forever. 

-Archana, Adult Services & Acquisitions Librarian

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