The Girl Before is the debut novel of author Rena Olsen.
We've all seen them, heard of them or read them - stories of young girls kidnapped and never seen again. But....sometimes they are rescued or manage to escape. I can't bring myself to read the accounts or the books that are released afterwards.
But knowing Olsen's account was fictional I picked it up. The publisher's tagline was also intriguing. "In this powerful psychological suspense debut, when a woman’s life is shattered, she is faced with a devastating question: What if everything she thought was normal and good and true...wasn’t?"
Clara remembers nothing of her life 'before.' She only knows her husband Glen, his parents Papa G and Mama Mae - and their illegal family business. But Clara doesn't see it that way. Over the years she's been trained, conditioned and manipulated to believe something other than reality. "I only need to know what Glen tells me."
When an arrest occurs, Clara is forced to confront that reality. Olsen does this in a now and then narrative, allowing the reader to uncover and discover along with Clara. "What if how I lived my entire life was not how I was meant to live?"
And with each new revelation, it's hard to put it down. I wanted to know - who was Clara and would she remember the 'before'? My opinion of Clara changed throughout the book - is she a victim or a criminal? Clara faces the same questions herself. Olsen does an admirable job in depicting Clara's confusion. I imagine that Olsen's daytime job as a school therapist adds to the authenticity of Clara's emotions, feelings and journey to self realization. The other main characters however, are very easy to categorize as perpetrators.
I did find it somewhat difficult to remember that yes, although this was fiction - it's still someone's reality somewhere. But, it was hard to put the book down - kind of that 'accident on the road don't look but cover your eyes and peek as you drive by' feeling. While this is a disturbing premise, Olsen manages to avoid graphic detail while still transmitting the reality of Clara's - and other's - situations.
Some plot points were a bit of stretch for me - particularly the police procedural details. And the 'after' chapters got a bit repetitive in the final countdown. But all in all, an addictive read. Read an excerpt of The Girl Before.
You can connect with Rena Olsen on her website, find her on Facebook and follow her on Twitter.