Clara Lawson lives on a ranch with her loving husband (Glen) and their daughters. One day, their home is raided and, suddenly, Clara’s world is shattered. Glen only has time to tell Clara one thing before he is taken from her. Don’t tell the police anything. Clara wasn’t always Clara. Her husband is a dangerous criminal. The girls are not their daughters. As Clara is pulled through a police investigation she cannot help but wonder what is true. As Clara realizes her entire life has been a lie, she is forced to look at her actions and the actions by those around her. What if everything you knew to be true about your life…wasn’t?
The Girl Before, the debut novel by Rena Olsen, is not your run of the mill suspense thriller. It is slower paced, but completely action packed. This is not a book that you can casually pick up and put down; this plot is so addicting and so consuming that it is unputdownable. This is also not a book that you can casually skim; not a second of this book can be missed. IT IS SO GOOD.
The novel follows Clara Lawson, after being ripped from her home, as she participates in the police investigation into her husband. Told between past and present, the layers of Clara’s past unfold; we see her growing up with her sisters with Mama Mae and Papa G, we see her falling in love with their forbidden son, we see her take over the “family business”. In the present, we see Clara trying to come to terms with what she believes to be true and the reality as the past and present collide.
I loved the narrative style. There are no traditional chapters in this one; instead, the story is told from Then and Now. The Then follows Clara’s backstory at the ranch; how she met Glen, how she got into helping with the girls and the propaganda she was told to cooperate. Be warned, this novel is not told chronologically. This was one of the features that I loved the most about this novel. I loved having to put everything together for myself. The Now follows Clara as she comes to term with what has happened to her.
The development of the Clara character was superb. The novel is told completely in the first person, narrated by Clara. At the beginning of the novel, when we hear her voice, she is naïve and idyllic, as she speaks of her childhood and growing up with the family. By the middle of the novel, the narration becomes so much darker as she begins to delve into her past and truly understand what happened to her. Olsen truly does a brilliant job at portraying extremely heavy topics like human trafficking and Stockholm syndrome. By the end, I loved the way Clara developed and the ending was absolutely breathtaking.
If you like novels with a dark undertone or a fantastic novel of suspense, you will LOVE this one. I highly recommend this read. If you are on the fence on this one, let me be the one to push you over the edge. Read. This. Book.