Hello Humans! Welcome back to another book review, today I’m very excited to be reviewing YA historical mystery novel Between Before and After by Maureen Doyle McQuerry. This book certainly falls outside of my ‘comfort zone’ of science fiction and fantasy, but a combination of the cover and the description lured me in and I thought I’d better give it a go. I actually read this pretty much in one go while on the train up to London – I do some of my best reading on trains to London, I must keep that in mind.
“The carnage began with the roses. She hacked at their ruffled blooms until they dropped into monstrous drifts of red on the parched yellow lawn … Only two things kept my mother grounded to us: my uncle Stephen and stories.”
Fourteen-year-old Molly worries about school, friends, and her parents’ failed marriage, but mostly about her mother’s growing depression. Molly knows her mother is nursing a carefully-kept secret. A writer with an obsession for other people’s life stories, Elaine Donnelly is the poster child of repressed emotions.
Molly spends her California summer alternately watching out for her little brother Angus and tip-toeing around her mother’s raw feelings. Molly needs her mother more than ever, but Elaine shuts herself off from real human connections and buries herself in the lives and deaths of the strangers she writes about. When Uncle Stephen is pressed into the limelight because of his miracle cure of a young man, Elaine can no longer hide behind other people’s stories. And as Molly digs into her mother’s past, she finds a secret hidden in her mother’s dresser that may be the key to unlocking a family mystery dating to 1918 New York—a secret that could destroy or save their future.
As someone who doesn’t read a huge amount of historical fiction (though I have read quite a bit this year) so please take that into account when you read my review. I can’t speak to tropes or what may be cliché or new or exciting – I can only speak to my experience reading this book – just something to keep in mind.
I loved the way that this book had a split narrative. I’ve read books that follow two different timelines before (a huge trend around the same time as The Time Traveller’s Wife was popular) but what I really liked about this book was that both timelines were historical fiction – the 1950s and the 1910s-20s. I liked that this gave you two historical perspectives as opposed to one historical and one modern day – which I’ve seen before and wasn’t overly enamoured with. So not only do you get the grit, the grime and also the strange fantasy of post WW1 New York but you also get snippets of 50s America, with a trip to the newly built McDonalds and so forth. I thought this was written really well and it also made it feel so much more special with that element of dramatic irony knowing what was to come in the next few decades. Since the 1950s element is written as though it is being written (complicated but I promise it makes sense) you also get the feeling of perhaps a third generation reading the book in the modern day. Perhaps I’m reading too deep – but that’s how it felt to me.
I thought that the ‘mystery’ element was less mystery and more intrigue? I appreciate that doesn’t make a huge amount of sense so let me explain. I managed to work out the gist of what had happened (what Molly was trying to work out) pretty early on. I don’t think of that as a negative, but those looking for surprising plot twists might not appreciate that element of this story. What that meant was that reading both Molly and Elaine’s narratives you get to witness a daughter learning why her mother is the way that she is. There’s a strange feeling knowing more than Molly does and then a very satisfying feeling when she puts together another piece of the puzzle that, as a reader, you’ve already solved. So I wouldn’t describe this as a mystery in the traditional sense, though there are mysterious elements.
I thought that some parts of the story needed spotlighting a little bit more, just to get the balance right. Namely, the ‘miracle’ performed by Molly’s Uncle Stephen. It isn’t that I didn’t appreciate what that subplot brought to the story, but I’m not sure that the dramatic effect it had on Molly’s family’s life was brought into the forefront as much as it could have been. I think it would have helped to balance the conflict within the two perspectives. Just my take though, and perhaps that was just in the way in which I read the story.
If you like historical fiction with mystery and intrigue that explores the complex relationship between mother and daughter as well as between the past and the present then I would absolutely recommend Between Before and After. It brings together a number of great ideas and it even made me shed a tear or two.
My rating: 4/5 stars
I received a free digital advanced copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.
What say you? Will you be reading Between Before and After when it comes out? Let me know in the comments below!