Monday, 3 July 2017

Before We Were Strangers - Renee Carlino; Review

Book Details:
Paperback: 320 pages
Publisher: Atria Books; 1 edition (27th Aug 2015)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1501105779
ISBN-13: 978-1501105777


To the Green-eyed Lovebird:

We met fifteen years ago, almost to the day, when I moved my stuff into the NYU dorm room next to yours at Senior House.

You called us fast friends. I like to think it was more.

We lived on nothing but the excitement of finding ourselves through music (you were obsessed with Jeff Buckley), photography (I couldn’t stop taking pictures of you), hanging out in Washington Square Park, and all the weird things we did to make money. I learned more about myself that year than any other.

Yet, somehow, it all fell apart. We lost touch the summer after graduation when I went to South America to work for National Geographic. When I came back, you were gone. A part of me still wonders if I pushed you too hard after the wedding…

I didn’t see you again until a month ago. It was a Wednesday. You were rocking back on your heels, balancing on that thick yellow line that runs along the subway platform, waiting for the F train. I didn’t know it was you until it was too late, and then you were gone. Again. You said my name; I saw it on your lips. I tried to will the train to stop, just so I could say hello.

After seeing you, all of the youthful feelings and memories came flooding back to me, and now I’ve spent the better part of a month wondering what your life is like. I might be totally out of my mind, but would you like to get a drink with me and catch up on the last decade and a half?


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I had previously picked up this authors best-selling book, Swear On This Life (review here) which despite all the raving reviews, I really really didn't like. Not to be deterred, I thought okay, no biggie, there’s another book by this author which also got great reviews too and the storyline sounds better, let me give that a go. Sadly, alas, it seems me and this authors books won’t bet getting along. I had less issues with this book than the previous one, but didn’t enjoy it any more and feel disappointed with both books - there was promise with the premise, but the execution, chemistry and characters were so lacking that both books fell flat. 

The story follows the lives of once seemingly two best friends, Matt and Grace, as it flits between the past and present. Matt and Grace were one inseparable, great friends and something more but everything started to fall apart for them, and in the present we see how different their lives are, how far they’ve drifted and eventually the reasons why. When Matt spots Grace one day on a departing train, he puts an ad in the newspaper, in desperate hope to find her again. The storyline and idea was cute enough and the beginning really had me engaged, in wanting to find out what happened between them to cause all this distance, but the more I read about their past, and especially Matt, it turned out, the more I really really disliked him, and from then on, the story for me could only take a nosedive. 

Matt’s character to me, started off great - he came across as sensitive, funny, witty, and charming. He was ambitious and creative, his love for photography pulling me in as I myself have a passion for it too. I felt connected to his character in that sense - until the night that Grace, after some misunderstanding, was upset with Matt and agreed to have dinner with a professor, who we sense is into her, but she’s not - as you can guess, she only agreed to it after being hurt by what she assumed Matt was doing. When Grace brushes Matt off, goes to dinner and returns, she sees Matt doing shots off a girl whose sat in his lap, and pretty much both of them making out. Grace, hurt and jealous, grabs a guy and is about to take him to her room when Matt suddenly intervenes and gets really pissy and angry - irony much? He’s sat there making out with a girl which Grace is meant to be okay with, but when she grabs a guy, suddenly Matt’s all possessive. Granted both their reasonings for their actions at that time weren’t the best - but Matt’s response I did. not. like. Up until this point we see Matt as this sensible and caring character, only for us to suddenly see this 180 degree turn? Just felt really out of character for the Matt we got to see. 

The other thing that really annoyed me about him, was once Grace and Matt are pretty much dating and officially together, there’s an impending question of their futures hanging above them - for Grace, it’s the opportunity to travel for a year with the professor and his orchestra group, and for Matt, it’s a 3 month internship abroad for National Geographic. Both amazing opportunities for both characters, and logic dictates that at this point at least, they should have a conversation about what this means for their relationship but Matt keeps putting it off, and Grace never fully garners the courage to really talk about it. The one moment she does, Matt gets really angry, saying would she really ask him to turn down this amazing opportunity to stay with her? Then he hammers home that this is apparently just a “see you later” scenario rather than a goodbye - Grace relents and tearfully says yeah ok. She herself turns down the orchestra tour, though she doesn’t admit this, to stay and wait for Matt to return and Matt should have realised this, it’s so obvious - but he doesn’t push her to pursue her aspirations the way he should have. This whole scene made Matt come across as extremely insensitive, stubborn and selfish. 

The final nail in the coffin was once they both reconnect in the present, he’s a part of her life, and when he finds out one of the main reasons they were apart and who was responsible for it *cough trying not to spoiler it here* he gets angry at GRACE INSTEAD OF THE PERSON WHO ACTUALLY DID THE HORRIBLE THING. Logic, where art thou? I can’t even with this character. There’s so many more strikes against his character and plot threads that really annoyed me, but I’ll stop here. 

The writing style was better than Swear On This Life, the characters were okay *cough except for Matt* and though it started off well, I wound up rolling my eyes more frequently as the book went on. In this case, similar to Swear On This Life, the ideas and storyline were promising, but the execution wasn’t. Matt’s character was my biggest gripe with this book and my disappointment in him, ruined everything else for me. Sadly I don’t think I’ll be reading any more of this authors books, tis a shame, because I feel like both these books could have been great. Nice cover though.

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