Tuesday, August 29, 2017

The Ethan I Was Before by Ali Standish

Ethan Truitt, 12, and his best friend Kacey Reid used to have all kinds of adventures together, until one night Ethan dares Kacey to do something and, though it ends in a tragic accident, Ethan can't help but blame himself for causing it. 

Now, his parents are moving from Boston to Palm Knot, a coastal town in Georgia, using the excuse that they need to take care of his elderly grandfather, but in reality, Ethan knows it is an attempt to help him come to terms with his overwhelming grief and his all-consuming guilt.

At first, living with his grumpy grandpa Ike in a somewhat dumpy, dilapidated house, and with an angry older brother who resents him because of the move, really isn’t helpful. At school, Suzanne, who seems to have a little crush on Ethan, wants him to hang around with her and her friends, the “cool kids,” but Ethan isn’t very inclined to do that. Instead, he starts hanging around with the intrepid Coralee Jessup, a smart, talkative black girl who claims to be violin prodigy, and who is not much liked by the “cool kids.” 

Coralee also introduces Ethan to the unofficial library in the back of the hardware store, both run by Mack, a woman who has been collecting books for decades and who always has some salt water taffy for her patrons. And maybe grandpa Ike isn’t so bad after all, especially when he decides to teach Ethan how to drive his pickup truck. 

As Ethan adjusts to life in Palm Knot, the circumstances of Kacey’s accident are slowly revealed in flashbacks. The reader knows that Kacey is still alive because Ethan has run away a few times to try and see her. She is in a nursing home, in a coma and on life support. When Ethan is told that her parents have decided to take her off life support, Ethan’s pain is intense and palpable. His pain is compounded by the fact that when he finds out that Coralee has betrayed his confidence about what happened to Kacey to Suzanne, Suzanne also makes it a point to tell him the truth about Coralee’s life with the result that Ethan begins to believe that everything Coralee has told him about herself is a lie. 

Everything comes to a dramatic climax and denouement when a hurricane hits Palm Knot and Coralee goes missing. Ethan couldn’t help Kacey when she was hurt, but can he redeem himself and help save the new friend he turned his back on?

The Ethan I Was Before couldn’t be a more appropriate title for Ethan’s story. No one remains unchanged after going through a trauma that literally shatters the innocence of childhood, and the intense feelings that follow.  

This coming of age novel is written in the first person from Ethan’s point of view, so that the reader journeys with him through all his turmoil and agony as he finally attempts to come to terms with Kacey’s accident and his part in it, and begins to discover who he is now. Besides his narration, there are, throughout the book, lists that Ethan makes at the suggestion of his therapist in Boston just before he moved, thinking it might help him make sense of his world and who he is now, ”The Ethan you were before may be gone, but now you have the chance to get to know the new Ethan.” 

This is a debut novel for Ali Standish, and while I thought there was just a little too much going on at the end of the story, I also felt that she really understood what Ethan was going through and conveys it to her readers quite well and with a great deal of empathy. Ethan’s story is very moving and will have readers riveted, I know I was. And while it is an emotionally charged novel about guilt, grief, the possibility of healing, it is ultimately a novel about the importance of family,  friendship, honesty, and most importantly, hope.

This book is recommended for readers age 9+
This book was an EARC received from Edelweiss+

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