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[840] The Girl Before – Rena Olsen


“We are forbidden to talk about our lives before coming to live with Mama and Papa. I’ve been here so long I don’t remember my life before, but for the occasional flash of memory or feeling of deja vu.” (151)

The book is painful, profound and dark. Rena Olsen writes with a thoughtful sophistication and understanding of character and circumstances. Told through shifting episodes between present and past, the book recounts the arrest and investigation of Clara Lawson’s role in the shady human trafficking business run by her husband’ family. She is both a victim and perpetrator, therefore illuminating all the grey in a world one would prefer to be black and white.

At the beginning, without warning, her home is invaded, and raided by armed men who take her away from her husband and daughters. But as the investigation deepens and the story slowly unpeeled, it is revealed that Clara is living a life she thinks is absolutely normal. Her life, far from reality, is featured, and she is deprived of the memories of her childhood. She has lived in a world of deception, created and maintained by her “fostered parents,” who became her in-laws, for so long that she even believes they have rescued girls unwanted by their families and give them a better life. She grows up thinking dysfunctional relationship is the norm. The length of the book sees to her slow coming to terms with the reality.

The Girl Before is a psychological thriller dissecting the deep layers of one’s psyche. It’s a quiet suspense. Olsen spares the reader graphic details of the criminal theme. The alternating past and present frames really capture the heroine’s functioning and mentality; this style creates a mysterious tone. The fractured narrative illustrates her struggles to reconcile her two lives and understand how the innnocent, spunky girl she was before the abduction becomes a misguided woman indoctrinated to believe what she is doing is a blessing to others.

312 pp. Putnam. Trade Paper. [Read|Skim|Toss] [Buy|Borrow]


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