“Running back to something takes a lot longer than running away from it.”
Seventeen years is a long time to keep secrets, so Xander Fife is very good at it: everyone believes he has a normal family. If he can just get through this summer, he’ll start his real life in college with a clean slate–no risk, no drama, no fear.
Xander’s summer plans include pick-up soccer, regular hijinks with friends, an epic road trip, and—quite possibly— the company of his ideal girlfriend, the amazing Gretchen Taylor.
Instead of kicking off what had promised to be an amazing summer, however, graduation day brings terror. His family’s secrets are thrust out into the open, forcing Xander to confront his greatest fear. Or run from it.
Armed with a fake ID, cash, and a knife, Xander skips town and assumes a new identity. In danger hundreds of miles from home, one thing is clear: Xander’s real life is already in progress and just getting through it isn’t enough.
Life Before tells an emotional and realistic story of Xander’s Fife – a teenage boy who has a violent and abusive father, Garry. Though Xander and his mother are not living anymore with Garry, they still both suffer from his mistreatment, which later resulted to his mother’s death, and him on the run, hiding and on his own for the first time in his life. How long can Xander outrun his father? Will Xander survive on his own with only a few cash, fake ID and a knife?
For a debut novel, Life Before is surprisingly good read. It has enough drama and realism to hook readers from start to end. Xander’s story despite painful and emotionally draining is thought provoking and something that need to be told.
Xander as the main character feels like real teenager – someone we probably know in real life. His life and situation is something that anyone may go through, not just the trying to grow up in matter of days but also the abusive part of his life. We may not be on the run like Xander but we can easily find our selves trap in hard situations where we don’t have much choice but try our best to fight and try survive life.
Xander’s conflicting emotions easily mirror our own questions. Like when he is blaming himself for being a coward, when in truth, no one can really tell how someone will react in his situation, especially with the history he previously undergo. Xander sometimes made bad choices, but with few choices he has how can we blame him? He is picking one even if all the choices are poor, because he needs to.
“You weren’t living a life, Xander. You were ashamed of your parents. You kept secret the things that were happening in your life. You didn’t keep yourself from people. The Garry stuff, your mom? It’s tragic, it’s awful, but those are things that happened to you, not who you are.”
Michele Bacon didn’t show in graphic details all of Xander’s sufferings but with Xander’s raw and honest dialogues, readers will still feel Xander’s emotional journey. His hatred to his father show how much he and his mother were mistreated, his closeness to his best friend Jill and her family shows how much he wants to have a normal life, and him running away shows how much he wants to live more.
Aside from Xander, there are few characters in the story that leave wonderful thoughts and reminders for readers. Like Curt who showed Xander’s that strangers can also be friend or family who will surprise you if you let them in. Curt’s Mom and Xander’s Mom who both remind us that life is short and fragile and that we need to value it before it’s too late. And Jill and her family who shows kindness and unconditional love to Xander.
“Maybe that’s what life is: a series of tearing your heart into tiny pieces and giving them to other people. Maybe as soon as you detach yourself from someone you love, you can never be whole again.”
All in all, Life Before is a powerful novel. With compelling storyline, and realistic characters this book is an engaging read from start to end. For a debut novel, Author Michele Bacon does an incredible job telling a sensitive and dark story through Xander’s raw and honest voice. Looking forward for more books from this talented new author.
* This review is based on an a copy I received courtesy of the author & her publicist.