Disclaimer: I was given a copy of “Before You Were Mine” by Em Muslin by the good folks at Books and the Bear in exchange for an honest review.
“Before You Were Mine” tells the story of Eli Bell. Eli gets pregnant at 14, and her baby daughter is taken away from her from the hospital. She becomes a pariah in her community, and is grateful when Tommy, a mechanic at her father’s garage, asks her to marry him. Tommy gives her a simple, steady life without ambition or drama. But the hole in Eli’s heart never heals, and she wants to seek out her daughter.
While grocery shopping, she meets a woman who strikes a chord with her. Maybe it is the woman’s eyes, or the gap between her teeth, but she is convinced this woman is her daughter. She becomes somewhat obsessed with running into her again and to solve the mystery of her identity.
The book is entirely about relationships – about mothers and daughters, between women, and the true nature of love. Eli’s relationship with her own mother is complicated at best. Her best friend, Daisy, has usurped her place as favored daughter. Tommy loves Eli fiercely, but is unable to express this in any but the most primitive ways. The emotional rawness and reality is where the book shines.
There are some technical problems with it, the sort only nit picky people like me even care about. For a while, I couldn’t place the book – it felt like it was supposed to be small town America, but some of the dialect and vocabulary was distinctly British. This doesn’t matter except how I hear the characters’ voices in my head. As the book went on, it stated it was set in America, more specifically the south. So calling the hood and trunk of the car the ‘bonnet’ and ‘boot’ and spelling the word ‘tyres’ with a ‘y’ and words like ‘favourite’ with a ‘u’ are out of place. Likewise, in the beginning of the book Eli leaves school and goes directly to the hospital to have the baby. But later the baby’s birthday is listed as July 4, 1976 which is not only in the summer, and therefore would not be a school day, but Independence Day, a national holiday, and not just any Independence Day, but the American bicentennial. This would be a significant plot element, especially in the rural south. Also, if the baby was born in 1976 when Eli was 14, and she married when she was 17, then she married in 1979. Tommy says they have been married for 29 years, which makes the book take place in 2008. In 2008 in the American south, air conditioning is not a luxury, it is standard. Cell phones would be more or less ubiquitous. The book felt like it took place twenty or more years before it actually did. Given that the book is published by Harper Collins, I find it concerning that no editor picked up on these things. They got in the way of my ability to enjoy the story, which is otherwise very well written and emotionally real. If that stuff doesn’t bother you, then you’ll love the book. If it does, steer clear.
To read more about this book, you can visit the author’s website at http://www.emmuslin.com
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