To the Green-eyed Lovebird:
We met fifteen years ago, almost to the day, when I moved my stuff into the NYU dorm room next to yours at Senior House.
You called us fast friends. I like to think it was more.
We lived on nothing but the excitement of finding ourselves through music (you were obsessed with Jeff Buckley), photography (I couldn’t stop taking pictures of you), hanging out in Washington Square Park, and all the weird things we did to make money. I learned more about myself that year than any other.
Yet, somehow, it all fell apart. We lost touch the summer after graduation when I went to South America to work for National Geographic. When I came back, you were gone. A part of me still wonders if I pushed you too hard after the wedding…
I didn’t see you again until a month ago. It was a Wednesday. You were rocking back on your heels, balancing on that thick yellow line that runs along the subway platform, waiting for the F train. I didn’t know it was you until it was too late, and then you were gone. Again. You said my name; I saw it on your lips. I tried to will the train to stop, just so I could say hello.
After seeing you, all of the youthful feelings and memories came flooding back to me, and now I’ve spent the better part of a month wondering what your life is like. I might be totally out of my mind, but would you like to get a drink with me and catch up on the last decade and a half?
A dazzling and heartbreaking story of missed connections and the possibility of a second chance at love. Epic, emotional, and stunningly beautiful.
It’s no secret that I love Renée Carlino. I always fall head over heels for everything she writes and I’m pleased to tell you that Before We Were Strangers is no different in that way. It’s completely different in every other way. The plot is unique, the characters aren’t the same few that everyone else is writing about, and it has such heart and character. This book feels like a living, breathing being. It really took on a life of its own.
I cannot put into words how breathtakingly beautiful this book is. Renée’s writing style is so simplistic in its beauty. Her writing is like a fresh breath of cool air. She doesn’t feel the need to overly complicate it with tons of metaphors and words she dug out of a thesaurus. Less is more and somehow her “less” is so much more than most others’ “more”. The way she writes makes everything feel so real and honest. It doesn’t try too hard because it doesn’t need to.
I fell in love with Matty from the very first chapter. Something about the way she writes gives me butterflies and I felt them very early on for Matt. He’s a real guy whose life has not gone the way he imagined, despite all of his accomplishments and accolades. He glides through life in black and white ever since he lost Grace.
Grace is such a sweet, kind, and endearing character. She’s a classic beauty with a big heart, a free spirit, and to some degree, a childlike innocence. But she’s also forced to grow up quickly in many ways.
I’m a huge sucker for a good second chance romance and I can’t ever remember one done as well as this one. I laughed, I smiled, I got angry, I cried (sobbed is more like it), and even cried while smiling. Renée played my emotions like a fiddle. I was so heartbroken for Matt and Grace. They were robbed of so many things that should’ve been simple and beautiful.
I loved how this book was written in a Now, Then, Now pattern. It really took a toll on my heart seeing where they were currently and then to go back and see how it all began. I read it constantly waiting for the other shoe to drop and when it finally did, it tore my heart in two.
If you even loosely follow my reviews you know that this has been a hell of a year for me as far as books go. I’ve been in the mother of all book slumps this year and while I’ve been finally able to start coming out of it recently, Before We Were Strangers really blew that out of the water. I was extremely nervous to read this book because I haven’t loved much of anything lately and I’ve been so eagerly anticipating this book for so long that I was terrified that my own inner hype would kill it for me. Not even close. It’s easily my favorite book this year and one of my all-time favorites. I just pre-ordered the paperback because I need a physical copy of this exquisite story on my bookshelf.
Thank you, Renée for giving us this brilliant and breathtaking story of love, loss, forgiveness and second chances. Spectacular job, as always. I suppose I forgive you for making me cry. Everyone needs to read this book immediately! Bring your tissues.
Have you ever read a book that from the very first page you simply feel – connected? Connected to the story, the characters, the setting? That, as you are reading, you have to stop and hold it over your heart and whisper-wish into the void that you love everything about it? Keep a copy on you at all times, hoping that maybe you can revisit your favorite moments anytime you want? Fall in love with it each and every time you read it – the first time, the fifth time, the last time? For me, Before We Were Strangers is that book.
Before We Were Strangers follows Matt and Grace as they enter their final years at NYU. Matt is a photographer whose professional success in the industry is imminent. Much like him, his work is smart, forthright and beautiful. Grace is a cellist favored by her cohorts. She plays with life and honesty and her talent reaches far beyond her insecurities. As friends first, Matt and Grace simply feel themselves into love with one another, not giving chance to anything or anyone on their way. Their relationship is serendipitous and alive with the simplicity of first love. Through shared experiences, joys and insecurities they find their affections received with the utmost devotion and propensity as it is given, but sometimes life, expectations and ambitions get in the way, and you need a second chance. A do-over where you hope not everything has been turned to ash.
Renee Carlino seems to write casts and stories that always leave an impression on me. I want to grab her characters through my book and hug them, talk to them, laugh with them. They’re real, and fun, and have flaws the same as the rest of us. Her tales take on an anecdotal quality that pull me under and excite me and leave me drawing parallels about my own life to the one written on the pages of the book. The words never feel manufactured or compulsory and the narratives are authentic, dynamic and are teeming with moments that bewitch and fascinate. I love that about her writing and Before We Were Strangers showcases it beautifully.
Renee’s leading men are some of my favorites and Matt is no exception. His energy and confidence were so alive and vibrant. His spirited and dynamic nature captivated me from the very beginning. I was easily able to draw a connection to Grace too. She is imaginative and selfless and carries herself with a quiet demeanor that speaks loudly of her kind and gentle heart. As I watched Matt and Grace fall in love I was reminded of all the promises of first love and the poignancy and beauty of letting it go.
I absolutely adored all of the nostalgia in this book. Having been in my early twenties 15 years ago, I loved reminiscing over the resourceful and creative ways there were to earn money or a meal or having to use a phone card at a payphone. As the perfect backdrop for Matt and Grace, New York is just as bold and desperate as they were as they navigated their way through their last years at school on nothing but a few dollars and love. The way Renee delicately interlaced her own passions and interests into Matt and Grace’s story especially heightened my reading experience. Her admiration and respect for music and photography are evident, as is shown in the way her characters hold those same interests with like esteem.
I thought this book was amazing. It deserves every one of the five stars I gave it. If I could, I would eagerly give it more. As one of my favorite reads of 2015, and possibly ever, Before We Were Strangers has left its literary mark on my heart. It will not be soon forgotten, instead be fervently remembered and celebrated as a story so affective, vibrant and wondrous.