WHAT I HAD BEFORE I HAD YOU by Sarah Cornwell
Available now from Harper Audio
From the Publisher:
Written in radiant prose and with stunning psychological acuity, award-winning author Sarah Cornwell’s What I Had Before I Had You is a deeply poignant story that captures the joys and sorrows of growing up and learning to let go.
Olivia Reed was fifteen when she left her hometown of Ocean Vista on the Jersey Shore. Two decades later, divorced and unstrung, she returns with her teenage daughter, Carrie, and nine-year-old son, Daniel, recently diagnosed with bipolar disorder. Distracted by thoughts of the past, Olivia fails to notice when Daniel disappears from her side. Her frantic search for him sparks memories of the summer of 1987, when she exploded out of the cocoon of her mother’s fierce, smothering love and into a sudden, full-throttle adolescence, complete with dangerous new friends, first love, and a rebellion so intense that it utterly recharted the course of her life.
Olivia’s mother, Myla, was a practicing psychic whose powers waxed and waned along with her mercurial moods. Myla raised Olivia to be a guarded child, and also to believe in the ever-present infant ghosts of her twin sisters, whom Myla took care of as if they were alive—diapers, baby food, an empty nursery kept like a shrine. At fifteen, Olivia saw her sisters for the first time, not as ghostly infants but as teenagers on the beach. But when Myla denied her vision, Olivia set out to learn the truth—a journey that led to shattering discoveries about herself and her family.
Sarah Cornwell seamlessly weaves together the past and the present in this riveting debut novel, as she examines the relationships between mothers and daughters, and the powerful forces of loss, family history, and magical thinking.
“The audiobook (HarperAudio; 8 hr, 17 min) is read by Karen White, whose expressive reading adds an appropriately dreamy feel to this story, which is told primarily in flashbacks. Bipolar disorder is a central theme of this novel, and White’s sensitive characterizations increase our empathy and draw us into this tale of motherhood and family. Recommended in audio.”
From the review at Anita Loves Books:
“This is a beautifully read book, Karen White is one of my favorite narrators and she has proven again how she can create images in my mind with her inflection and range of narration style.”
From the review in AudioFile Magazine:
“Olivia Reed left Ocean Vista when she was 15. Now, 20 years later, she returns with her two children and finally confronts her past. Narrator Karen White tellis this psychologically intense story in Olivia’s voice, ambling between the past and the present. Olivia’s return to her childhood home finds her distracted by memories, so she fails to notice when her 9-year-old son, Daniel, disappears. As she waits impatiently for the police to find him, her mind travels back to the summer of 1987, reliving the events that led to her running away. White’s narrator voice is neutral while her Jersey accent in dialogue gives characters personality. Tone and pace are uniform, making past and present weave themselves into a seamless tapestry.”
My recording experience:
I’ve been very lucky to have worked on some books with beautiful language use recently –though I’ve also had three books in three months involving mothers who have bipolar disorder which makes me a wee bit paranoid :). Cornwell’s book is in both categories. The story has its disturbing and heart wrenching elements for sure, but in the end is a testament to the enormity of a mother’s love, for better or for worse. Olivia’s journey was not easy to go on, but it was truthful in its own way and written with startling imagery that is still resonating with me.
Listen to a sample here: