Review: The Before Now and After Then by Peter Monn.

Danny Goldstein has always lived in the shadow of his identical, twin brother Sam. But when a hurricane of events forces him into the spotlight, he starts to realize that the only thing he’s truly afraid of is himself. With the help of his costume changing friend Cher, a famous gay uncle with a mysterious past of his own, two aging punk rocker parents and Rusty, the boy who will become his something to live for, Danny begins to realize that the music of the heart is truly the soundtrack for living.

A free copy of this book was provided in exchange for an honest review

Throughout the time I was reading this book I found it difficult to judge how I was going to rate it. I'm a very instinctive rater, I go with my heart. For me reading is about the passion it inspires, the love I feel for the story and characters, so I often know quite early on if I'm going to rate a book highly. Equally, some stories aren't for me, and these (if I'm reading for the blog) I read with an analytical eye - I try and decide why it isn't working for me, what I would have liked different, I try to be constructive, but honest. A few though leave me scratching my head. Leave me puzzling how I'm going to rate them - and this book definitely falls into that category. I'll try and explain.

As I mentioned before, I rate many books with passion - if I'm in love with a book many flaws will pass me by, I'll be completely oblivious. If I'm not in love with it I'm actively looking for the reasons why. This book though fell into neither camp. I didn't love or hate places I loved it and in places I found it annoying. The premise of Danny finding his whole self after living in the shadow of his twin for the first seventeen years of his life, whilst also dealing with the loss of his twin, his other half was promising. Mostly. I was worried about the angst level right at the start of the book, knowing the story would be shadowed by loss. I think it worked fact, if anything, I think the grief was perhaps a bit lite. I know - how can an author please me when I'm not exactly sure what I want myself.

Actually, you know what, I think that is probably a good summing up of the whole book for me...what I thought I wanted, I actually didn't. Go figure. I did love the diversity of the characters - even though I found many of them annoying. Cher particularly got right on my nerves. Didn't mean she wasn't a good character though, I just found her incredibly irritating. The super cool and understanding parents, I liked them as characters but I didn't get them as parents. I can't imagine anything worse than the death of one of my children. Maybe they are just better people than me, but my grief ...well to be honest I can't even think about it. I feel I would be more devastated than they appeared. At times we were told they were upset, but I didn't really feel it. That aside though, they were great characters - not perfect or imperfect. They just were. Alex too, the family friend, the famous, cool, gay 'Uncle'. I did like him...he actually felt more like a parent at times than the actual parents. I liked his role in Danny's life.

So, onto Danny himself and the other MC, Rusty. I suppose my biggest problem with this whole story was the insta-love. (I hate that phrase, just for the record, but it's the only one that will work here). Seventeen and within a week they'd fallen in love and had their hearts broken. At times they felt so much younger than seventeen. So. Much. Younger. To be fair, I really have to dreg my memories of being seventeen to relate...and you know what, I'm pretty sure I'd told myself I was in love several times by then, a look in ancient diaries would probably be more embarrassing than I care to admit. I wasn't stupid enough to tell the person I was dating at the time though. I think, even then, I knew the difference between love and lust. I like my characters to fall in love slowly - I don't care if insta-lust is present. Again though - is this my own prejudice, my own expectations that I'm bringing to the story? Maybe, looking at it as an adult I'm viewing it through age-tinted glasses.

I liked Rusty and Danny though. I really did - even if everything was full on and dramatic. My favourite line in the book:
""God Danny, for lots of reasons." He looked at me intently, searching for something in my eyes. "Tell me one," I whispered, feeling the tears well up in my eyes. He touched my cheek lightly. "You're kind, you're honest. You don't try to be something you're not. You're afraid but aren't afraid of letting people see it, which allows me to protect you. You smell good, like Christmas and the ocean. You're an incredible kisser. I like how awkwardly cute you look when you don't know what to say or how to act. I like how much you use the word seriously. I like how your body fits perfectly next to mine. I could fall asleep in your smile and tread water for weeks in your eyes. You have the coolest, curliest hair I've ever seen," he paused. "And you bring out something in me, something vulnerable and raw, that no one else has ever brought out in me before. I always feel like I have to be the man and take care of everything, but with you, I just get to be the boy in love...with another boy.""

I adore Rusty's honesty, his perception of Danny - and of himself - how he has observed all these small things. That he knows why he feels the way he does about this confused boyfriend of his....maybe I should change my mind about the inst-love, Rusty certainly seems to know the way he feels. The end of this phrase, "I just get to be the boy in love...with another boy." I think it gets half a star for that line alone.

The line I liked least? This one:
""Not everyone has parents who have gay best friends Danny. Parent's have to come out too.""

I detested this....this excusing of homophobic behaviour. No, no they don't have to come out. They have to love their children above and beyond anything and EVERYTHING else. They accept those children for who they are - not some mold that they feel their children should fit into. I know this is just Rusty's perception, but I hated it. It made my blood boil. I don't for one second think the author believes this...and if he does that makes me very, very sad.

So overall this book left me confused and questioning but I don't think this is necessarily a bad thing. I've rated it 3.75 hearts - but I'm still not sure, maybe it is a 4.

One last word...I'm very much the odd one out here, but I love the cover. I really, really do. Though tapes are a thing of the past (I'm not quite sure where Rusty got his tape recorder from, not to mention buying actual tapes, I'm assuming they're easier to get hold of in the USA, and to be fair I've not looked for them for about a decade now) it really fits the book well and I like how different it is. I know many feel the opposite way to me though - but it definitely caught my eye.

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