Please Note: I received an ARC copy of this book from Edelweiss in exchange for an honest review. This does not influence the opinions of my review in any way.
Synopsis (From GoodReads):Seventeen years is a long time to keep secrets, so Xander Fife is very good at it: everyone believes he has a normal family. If he can just get through this summer, he'll start his real life in college with a clean slate--no risk, no drama, no fear.
Xander’s summer plans include pick-up soccer, regular hijinks with friends, an epic road trip, and—quite possibly— the company of his ideal girlfriend, the amazing Gretchen Taylor.
Instead of kicking off what had promised to be an amazing summer, however, graduation day brings terror. His family's secrets are thrust out into the open, forcing Xander to confront his greatest fear. Or run from it.
Armed with a fake ID, cash, and a knife, Xander skips town and assumes a new identity. In danger hundreds of miles from home, one thing is clear: Xander's real life is already in progress and just getting through it isn't enough.
Review:Life Before, by Michele Bacon, touches on what it is like for a kid to try to survive (and get past) an abusive home life. Xander is ready to graduate and move on to college. He and his mom finally have their lives in order after leaving an abusive situation. One of the things that Xander is most relieved about is that most of his friends don't know about the abuse he and his mom suffered from his dad. But right as he is about to graduate, something happens to show everyone what he has been trying to hide.
I really felt for Xander. The physical pain of being abused is only part of why this situation is so devastating. It's the embarrassment and humiliation that everyone knows that is also so damaging. No one wants the pitying stares, or the whispers that accompany these situations. When well-meaning teachers or other adults try to get you to talk about it, you just want to climb under a rock and tell them to go away (yes, this is from personal experience). The book got those emotional moments spot on.
Instead of dealing with everyone's pity, Xander decides to run off. He wants to find a place where he is unknown so he can lie low until all of it blows over. Finding a small college town in Maine, Xander soon discovers that he can't remain aloof from people. He begins to make connections and friendships. I loved the secondary characters in this book. Their kindness and willingness to help this stranger did seem idealized, at times. But I loved that Xander could find nice people who would befriend him.
This was a strong book with memorable characters and an plot that kept me on my toes. The tension alternates with the theme of a person owning up to their choices. Xander keeps thinking that if he can just get through this, he can start his life. Meanwhile, life keeps happening. Learning to start living, even in difficult circumstances, is a lesson we all need to learn.
Release Date: June 7th, 2016
Format: E-book ARC
Recommendation: A coming of age tale with some very serious undertones. If you have triggers for domestic abuse, I would not recommend this.