Mini-Review: The Girl Before

The Girl Before is the story of a woman whose entire life has been built on lies and emotional manipulation.  And emotional manipulation at first led me to want to rate this book higher than it actually deserves.  The Girl Before turns reading into a compulsion instead of a choice, but so many of the plot points are simply unbelievable (even while practicing suspension of disbelief) that afterwards, you might feel a little bit cheated.

Clara huddles in the closet with her daughters, hearing the men with guns come closer and closer.  She prays they won't find the hiding space, but her luck has run out: the FBI is there and they're pulling her out, pulling her away from her daughters.  And strangest of all, they're calling her Diana.

Who is Diana?

Waking up in protective custody, Clara is terrified.  She wants her daughters and she wants her husband, Glen, but the agents in charge of her case inform her that he is also in custody.  And Clara knows that he would never, ever, ever want her to breathe a word.  She will be a good wife.  She will protect Glen.  She won't say anything.

After all, what could be wrong about her and Glen continuing Papa G's business of educating girls who had been bought from unloving families and grooming them to be the best companions a man could buy?

Olsen splits the narrative fairly equally into "before" and "after" time periods.  As Clara works through her imprisonment in the now, the reader gets to see her idyllic (oh really?) life before.  But who was Clara before the before?  Does she even want to know?

The Girl Before is a compelling story about human trafficking, brainwashing, and the nature of guilt. Unfortunately, it was spoiled for me by rushing the development of the main character.  Her arc involves illumination and self-discovery.  She was raised from a very young age to believe implicitly in the right of Papa G and Mama Mae to run their business.  Clare belived that these children really weren't wanted--what else had she ever known?  For her, beatings and whippings and a smack across the face are all valid reactions on the part of her adoptive mother or her husband.  And yet, when someone tells Clara that husbands do not express their love by hitting their wives, she accepts this rather matter-of-factly.

Years of indoctrination are undone by the statements of a few strangers?  I find that to be highly unlikely.  In Clara's situation, she's very much like a cult member who has to be ... I don't know what the proper word is.  Gently reintegrated back into society?  Clara's been with these people since she was a very small girl--she doesn't remember her birth parents or her sister.  Her entire life has revolved around "education" and corporal punishment and fear.

Overall, a solid thriller, but it would have been excellent had the author tinkered with the timeline to make Clara's growth as a person more believable.

I received an ARC of this title from NetGalley.


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