Before, After, and Somebody in Between

Before, After, and Somebody in Between- Jeannine Garsee

Rating: 3.5 stars

So here’s the thing about this book. It does not lack tragedy. In fact, tragedy is literally on every page. Over and over again. At some point, this becomes just too repetitive and predictable. After about a fourth of the way into the book, I could guess nearly exactly what was going to happen next. For this reason, I started to dread reading the book because I was just ready to get it over with. It was extremely clear where the book was headed.

However, after a lot of consideration, I am still choosing to give the book a fairly good rating. Why? Because the story line is actually good, and well thought out, despite it being predictable and full of never ending sadness. This book follows Martha-or Gina- throughout about a year of her life as a teenager. Martha has an alcoholic mother who comes with a constant swinging door of crappy, addicted, and sometimes abusive boyfriends. The book starts out with Martha’s mother haven just returned from a new rehab where she meets her newest boyfriend, Wayne. Martha and her mother move into Wayne’s home, which is sectioned off upstairs for another family who rents from Wayne. Martha’s mother is clean in the beginning, but it does not take too terribly long for this to change. Let’s just say that Martha ends up back in the foster system. She hates the home she is placed in, and runs away, but comes across a lawyer whom she had met through one of her friends. This lawyer takes her in.

This is where Martha becomes Gina. As I was reading, it became very evident that Martha was dealing with mental illness, as she does not just blur the lines between reality and the fake version of herself, she completely disintegrates them. Mental illness is never discussed, but a lot of other characters hint to Martha (Gina) that she has to learn to realize that she is still Martha, no matter how hard she tries to be this completely different person. She makes up lies and fools nearly everyone around her, with the exception of the lawyer and his wife who know who “Gina” really is, and she gets away with it for quite some time. She is finally living the life she has always wanted. She’s living in a mansion, has all the allowance she could hope for, goes to a private all girls school, and she’s finally begun lessons to improve her cello playing.

Things go south, as they always do. Gina turns back to Martha faster than Cinderella turns back to a lowly maid at the stroke of midnight. She’s forced to go home to her mother, who has straightened up for the time being. She’s back to being poor and living on the west side, and she’s just as unhappy as ever.

Martha was not an easy character to like. In fact, I didn’t like her at all. Her situation was almost always very unfortunate, but she seemed to somehow always make it worse for herself. She refuses to be truthful with anyone, nearly ever. She sabotages some of the very few good things she has in her life.
However, to hate the book because it was tragic would be like hating a fourteen year old girl because her life is exactly that- tragic. This book was predictable, but it was REAL life. Some people are really stuck in this constant cycle of awfulness. I cannot discredit the book because it portrays the reality that a lot of children with addicted parents face. This was one of the things I liked about the book. It was honest even when it seemed touche to be. This paired with how well Martha’s own budding addiction and mental issues are handled and written caused me to keep chugging on through the book. While it was not one of my favorite books about such a taboo topic, I do think it handled it all really well in such an honest light. It deserves recognition for that, at the least.

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