The Girl Before
By Rena Olsen
Author Website: https://renaolsen.com/
Brought to you by OBS reviewer Caro
Clara Lawson is torn from her life in an instant. Without warning, her home is invaded by armed men, and she finds herself separated from her beloved husband and daughters. The last thing her husband yells to her is to say nothing.
In chapters that alternate between past and present, the novel slowly unpeels the layers of Clara’s fractured life. We see her growing up, raised with her sisters by the stern Mama and Papa G, becoming a poised and educated young woman, falling desperately in love with the forbidden son of her adoptive parents. We see her now, sequestered in an institution, questioned by men and women who call her a different name—Diana—and who accuse her husband of unspeakable crimes. As recollections of her past collide with new revelations, Clara must question everything she thought she knew, to come to terms with the truth of her history and to summon the strength to navigate her future. (Goodreads)
The Girl Before is a thrilling book you have to read again right after you’re done reading it the first time. Clara’s story is captivating and moving as it shows the point of view of a child who thought that the life she had grown up in was how life was supposed to be like between the Now and Then moments.
At first glance, the reader is shown how Clara is taken, separated from her family, and then isolated. Clara tries her best to follow her husband’s words by not talking, and cannot comprehend why the people that have her captive would do such a thing to her and her family. What the reader then finds out is that the girls Clara loves and calls her daughters are in fact not hers, and that she is not who she thought to be all this time.
Behind Clara’s beautiful family façade lies a human trafficking organization. The focus of The Girl Before is set upon Clara’s perspective as a child to adulthood who was taken from her family and raised to be sold when the time was right. Due to certain events, Clara reaches the age to which she was supposed to be sold to instead stay in the household and become an apprentice in helping raise the younger kidnapped girls.
From Clara’s Then memories the reader gets glimpses of her life throughout the years after she was kidnapped, and how after time passed Clara forgot who she was, forming memories of a new family. Clara’s Now perspective shows her realization of the girl she was before and how she slowly comes to the conclusion that she is also a victim.
Clara shows us her world and the people that surround her as she learns the differences between those she grew up with and thought that loved her, to those that grew without her and truly cared for her. Her relationship with Glen is something about the story that I don’t know if to hate or not. As Clara mentions, she loved him and he loved her in his own way, and I couldn’t help liking those hidden moments where Glen showed he loved her. If life had been different, their story would have been another one.
Rena Olsen wrote a beautiful debut novel with The Girl Before showing another side of what can happen behind human trafficking and an abusing relationship. I really enjoyed reading this book and going through the memories with Clara to find the lost little girl, Diana.
“Maybe you loved Clara, but Clara no longer exists.”