The Girl Before by Rena Olsen
Penguin Publishing Group: 8/9/16
eBook review copy; 320 pages
The Girl Before by Rena Olsen is a highly recommended novel that examines human trafficking and victims.
Clara Lawson's home has been raided by armed men. Now her husband, Glen,
is in jail, she's in a psychiatric facility, and her daughters have
been taken from them. Twenty-three year old Clara was raised by Glen's
parents, Mama Mae and Papa G. She's loved Glen from the first time she
saw him and they married when she was 16. Now he's gone, telling Clara
as he was taken away to say nothing so Clara is not talking and not
eating. The FBI agents are calling Clara "Diana" and trying to get more
information from her. She isn't talking - but what has happened to her
The narrative is told in "Then" and "Now" chapters that alternate
between the past and the present day Clara. Clearly Clara's current
daughters aren't really her children and the girls she grew up with at
Mama Mae's and Papa Glen's house weren't her sisters. The girls have all
been told, past and present, that their parents didn't want them so
they are now being cared for by the Lawsons. The girls are being trained
for a future with wealthy "clients." As the story becomes clearer, we
know that Glen and his parents are involved with various human
trafficking ventures of young women and girls, as well as brothels.
Clara's daughters are being raised/trained by her the same way Clara was
trained, which makes Clara both a victim and a victimizer.
The tough part of this novel is Clara. I truly wondered how she could be
so stupid and naive to not realize what was happening around her. This
makes it extremely hard to relate to her or empathize with her situation
because she could have chosen to admit the truth. Clara's pregnancy
seems to be the impetus for her to face reality. This gives her
character some redemption in the fact that she starts to realize what
was really happening over the years, admits some brutal truths, and also
addresses the abuse she received.
The Girl Before is addictively readable and kept my attention
from beginning to end. I never fully reconciled my initial dislike for
Clara, which is the one drawback of this novel for me. Human trafficking
is such an insidious crime that it is hard to like anyone who has any
part of it, even when they started out a victim themselves. The
alternating chapters are very effective in creating a feeling of tension
and apprehension. You know something is going to happen and that there
is more to the story than Clara is admitting.
My advanced reading copy was courtesy
of the publisher for review