I received this book for free in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.Past Perfect Life by Elizabeth Eulberg
Published by Bloomsbury YA on July 9, 2019
Genres: Contemporary, Family, Young Adult
Pages: 336 •Format: ARC •Source: ALA, Publisher
Small-town Wisconsin high school senior Allison Smith loves her life the way it is-spending quality time with her widowed father and her tight-knit circle of friends, including best friend Marian and maybe-more-than-friends Neil. Sure she is stressed out about college applications . . . who wouldn't be? In a few short months, everything's going to change, big time.But when Ally files her applications, they send up a red flag . . . because she's not Allison Smith. And Ally's-make that Amanda's-ordinary life is suddenly blown apart. Was everything before a lie? Who will she be after? And what will she do as now comes crashing down around her?
I didn’t know much about Past Perfect Life when I saw it sitting inconspicuously at a booth at ALA this winter. The cover was interesting and I heard it compared to Far From the Tree by Robin Benway (a phenomenal book) so I decided to pick it up and try it out. I’m so glad I did, because I flew through Past Perfect Life in less than 24 hours and was fully immersed in the tale of Allison Smith and how her life is completely destroyed and rebuilt by the simple action of submitting her college applications.
Things I Enjoyed:
- Coincidentally enough, this book reminded me of two other books I really enjoyed, both by Robin Benway: Emmy & Oliver and Far From the Tree. It almost felt like a hybrid of the two, but in a good way and definitely with its own voice.
- Mild spoiler: From the summary of the book, you can probably surmise that Ally isn’t who she thinks she is because she was abducted by a relative when she was a young child. Thus, she truly has no idea that she’s a victim until the FBI comes banging down her door. I think this is such an interesting topic to handle because it seems to happen all the time. So often when we get Amber alerts on our phones, it’s due to kidnappings of children by parents or relatives, often times in custody cases gone wrong. It’s always so heartbreaking, and leads to so many questions: Why was the child taken? Are they better or worse off? Are they in danger? Were they being taken out of an abusive situation? I like that Ally did get to hear her kidnapper’s reasons directly and that they weren’t necessarily ones that she expected.
- Though Ally’s family (as she knows it) in Wisconsin is small, she has an amazing support system via her best friend’s family, the Gleasons. I think we all love a large, loud, and loveable YA family (such as the Grants in Save the Date) and the Gleasons hit the mark on this trope. I enjoyed their characters and the way they were so integrated into the town (the mayor, the sheriff, the controller, etc).
- Supportive grandparents and step-parents!! Seriously, Ally has one of the most supportive and approachable step-parents I’ve ever read in YA and I think that’s so important to show! There’s many grandmother figures as well that play a strong role in Ally’s life and I just LOVE when books explore family dynamics outside of the nuclear family. Also, Ally finds out she has a half-sibling and I enjoyed reading about the development of her relationship with her sister Sarah, and how Sarah’s life was impacted by having an older sister she never knew due to her being kidnapped.
- This book was largely split into two portions: 1) Ally’s life before and the reveal of the truth, and 2) Ally dealing with the emotional fallout of finding out the truth. I appreciated that the second half of the book focused heavily on Ally’s emotions, which could range from “This will all be OK, I just have to get through this” one moment, and “I CANNOT DO THIS” the next. It was what I assume is a realistic tornado of emotions from a teenager who has been put in an impossible situation.
- I like that the narrative showed Ally’s frustrations with ALL of her relatives and BOTH of her parents. There’s weren’t clear cut “sides.” Sure, Ally logically knows that one parent was in the wrong for kidnapping her, but also acknowledges “hey, I had a good life.” She at times empathizes with the parent who is finally being reunited with her but also gets frustrated by how that parent wants to disregard the woman she’s become in favor of who she could have been if she had never left. Ally’s character development and reaction to her situation is complex and captivating to read about.
- Eulberg did a great job of setting the tone of Ally’s small Wisconsin town- I admit it’s a state I know little about but I feel like I know a little bit more after reading this novel, and it was great to see a character with so much state pride!
Things I Didn’t Love:
- I’m going to sound like a broken record in my reviews lately but this is another one that probably didn’t really need a romance. It was sweet but personally didn’t add much to the story for me.
- I wish it had been longer! I was so intrigued by Ally’s story and predicament and really felt like I could have read another 100+ pages, seeing how the rest of her senior year panned out and her attending the trial of her relative/kidnapper. There’s no real closure for Ally and though I can see why the author left it open ended, I would have loved more.
Overall: An addicting read with a premise so intriguing that you’ll likely keep turning the pages and reading this one quickly! Great for readers who like stories that explore family dynamics with dysfunction.