Tuesday, August 9, 2016

The Girl Before

The Girl Before by Rena Olsen
Penguin Publishing Group: 8/9/16
eBook review copy; 320 pages
ISBN-13: 9781101982358

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 "daughters?"

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.

Disclosure: My advanced reading copy was courtesy of the publisher for review purposes.

No comments: