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  • Writer's pictureJudith D Collins

The Girl Before

ISBN: 9781101982358

Publisher: Penguin

Publication Date: 8/9/2016

Format: Paperback

My Rating: 4 Stars In this powerful psychological suspense debut, when a woman's life is shattered, she is faced with a devastating question: What if everything she thought was normal and good and true . . . wasn't? Clara Lawson is torn from her life in an instant. Without warning, her home is invaded by armed men, and she finds herself separated from her beloved husband and daughters. The last thing her husband yells to her is to say nothing. In chapters that alternate between past and present, the novel slowly unpeels the layers of Clara's fractured life. We see her growing up, raised with her sisters by the stern Mama and Papa G, becoming a poised and educated young woman, falling desperately in love with the forbidden son of her adoptive parents. We see her now, sequestered in an institution, questioned by men and women who call her a different name—Diana—and who accuse her husband of unspeakable crimes. As recollections of her past collide with new revelations, Clara must question everything she thought she knew, to come to terms with the truth of her history and to summon the strength to navigate her future.

My Review

A special thank you to Penguin and NetGalley for an ARC in exchange for an honest review. THE GIRL BEFORE is a riveting complex psychological suspense debut by Rena Olsen, where lines are blurred, between victim and perpetrator, from then and now. A well-written, disturbing portrayal of human trafficking, the haunting damage-and the road to acceptance, healing, and recovery. As the novel opens, Clara Lawson is separated from her daughters and husband. This is not an ordinary home invasion or kidnapping. Glen her husband tells her to say nothing. Now Glen is in jail. Why, she wonders. Not your ordinary “run of the mill” mystery suspense; told in alternating chapters, we hear from a confused woman who is dedicated to her husband and daughters. From “now” and “then” we hear from Clare-mysterious and dark, a broken life, from counseling sessions, a naïve young girl, the past is slowly unraveled, from a family business, innocent girls, and a haunting sex trafficking operation. Why does Clare think she has a loving husband and family? Yet the girls in the support group are saying something different? Surely, she was no part of this life. Is she in denial? Has she been brainwashed by these people? She has been a part of this family of Mama and Papa G, the owners and then a relationship with Glen, their son. (All calculating, ruthless, and controlling). The son takes over the business. Where does Clara fit and her role? Who are the girls which she calls her daughters? Why does everyone think her husband is a monster? She needs to keep quiet to protect her husband. Is she responsible for causing harm to other girls? What about her own family? When everything Clara thought was good and perfect; in reality, is dark and evil. Will they ever know freedom? From trafficking and murder. Guilt and atoning for sins. From an institution, a psychiatric facility, FBI interrogations, therapy, and support groups, she is called another name, “Diana.” They are accusing her husband of horrific crimes. What darkness was she involved in, and what part did she play with the lives of other innocent girls? Will she face the real truth about her past and be able to move on with the future?

"Every choice is an intricate result of many factors."

When getting in a car with someone leads to consequences. For many rescue comes too late. The author cleverly crafts a disturbing look at a woman who appears to be in denial. As a reader you are hearing of daughters, which are not her children, but the girls she grew up with at Mama and Papa’s house. As we often read, in this type of situations, the girls have been told they were not wanted by their parents and have been taken in by this couple. They all are trained for their clients (men). From young girls and women--- the author delves into the psychological mind of a woman which is both the victim, and the victimizer. At times you will want to shake Clara for being naïve; however, as you move along when the reality comes, the novel really takes shape when all of the pieces of the puzzle become connected. I also purchased the Audible version, while traveling, narrated by Brittany Pressley for an emotionally charged performance. An impressive gripping debut, keeping readers glued to the pages to learn Clare’s real story. The suspense and tension is slow burning, and you know something else is coming next lurking around the corner. The author’s background is reflected throughout the pages, with her vast expertise: a bachelor’s degree in psychology and a master’s degree in marriage and family therapy. Also a licensed therapist. Highly recommend to psychological suspense fans. A definite author to follow! Cannot wait to see what’s next.

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Praise for The Girl Before

“[A] thoughtful look at victims and perpetrators and the difficulties that arise for someone who is both at once. …. [The Girl Before] moves at the pace of a mystery, but the novel is strongest when it allows Clara to unpack her past and consider who she will be going forward. A moving story of recovery and responsibility.” —Kirkus Reviews

“I couldn’t put it down. The novel is compelling, perplexing, and ultimately uplifting! The unusual structure is a perfect match for the magnetic voice of the central character. I predict this daring debut novel will make Rena Olsen “the girl ahead” among psychological suspense authors.”—Karen Harper, New York Times bestselling author of Upon a Winter’s Night

“A disturbing story, haunting and important.”—Alexandra Burt, author of Remember Mia

“Daring, harrowing, and absolutely riveting.”—Sandra Block, author of Little Black Lies

About the Author

Rene Olsen

Rena Olsen is a writer, therapist, teacher, sometimes singer, and eternal optimist. By day she tries to save the world as a school therapist, and at night she creates new worlds in her writing. Her debut novel, THE GIRL BEFORE, will be available from Putnam 8/9/2016. Represented by Sharon Pelletier of Dystel & Goderich Literary Management. Read More

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