Review: BEFORE WE WERE STRANGERS by Renee Carlino

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?

There truly aren't enough stars out there to give this book. It has been a while since a book had me up way past my bedtime turning page after page. Well it was 4:30am and I was sitting on my couch, in the dark, sobbing my eyes out by the time I turned the last page. 

A love story that seriously tugged at every string of my heart, and I'd be lying if I said I knew how things would turn out in the end. I fell up in the air until the page second to last, which was both exciting and terrifying. 

Matt. Where to even start with Matt. He is perfectly imperfect, and I was in love with him by page 2 (I'm not even kidding!)

The story is told from alternating points of view and it takes us back and forth to the past and the present. We meet Matt first, a recently divorced and successful photographer for National Geographic, who is not entirely miserable but is not happy either. He is sort of stuck in limbo as far as his personal life goes. 

One day while waiting for a train he spots a woman who immediately catches his eye and just a few moments too late while the train is moving down the track he sees her face. It was Grace. His long lost love. 

This is when the flashbacks start and we go back 15 years in time to see how it all started for them.
Two broke college students in NYC trying to figure out life and what their path in it is. Matt is a photography major and Grace is a music major, both extremely talented at what they do. Matt always with a camera in his hand, and Grace with her cello slung over her shoulder. Both Matt and Grace are trying to make ends meets on limited funds, so they go in all these adventures to score free meals, from donating blood to stealing creamers for the cereal. They became fast friends and practically inseparable. Besides their friendship thought they are undeniably attracted to each other, but Grace wants to concentrate in school and her hopes are to start graduate school right after graduation. 

They are in love though and they enjoy being with one another. But when Matt is presented with an amazing internship opportunity things get a bit complicated, her has to leave for the summer but her promises to come back and Grace promised to wait for him. Grace was also presented with a fantastic opportunity, one that would take her to Europe and travel with an orchestra for a year and half.

When promises are seemingly broken and distance and lack of communication create a wedge between them, Grace too leaves to pursue her dream.

It is 15 years later that they reconnect and realize they never stopped loving each other, that while both moved on with their lives there was always a piece of their heart that belonged to one another.

Reunions are not always what people expect them to be though, they are no longer college students lounging around in a dorm room smoking weed while listening to Radiohead. They are adults, with lives that had gone in two different directions, two people who once loved each other but were now basically strangers. 

"Each day, I was learning how to simplify my life. Maybe that's what growing up was really about. Adults say how complicated life gets as we age, but really, I think we just look for the bigger challenge to overcome" 

Truths will surface and some truths are just too much to deal with, to hard to overcome, especially when these truths come 15 years too late. It may seem as easy as, "let's give this another go", but is it really? Sometimes people are perfect for each other but the timing is not. 
Matt and Grace were never been able to find what they once had between them with other people though. 

"You can't re-create the first time you promise to love someone or the first time you feel loved by another. You cannot relive the sensation of fear, admiration, self-consciousness, passion, and desire all mixed into one because it never happens twice. You chase it like the first high for the rest of your life." 

Renee wrapped this story up beautifully. Just the right amount of heartbreak, (believe me my heart is still hurting) ...feels and tears all over the place yet so good for the soul.

Tears kept falling until I turned the last page. I was so in love with this book and I was afraid the ending would disappoint yet it was perfect, and it made my heart feel full.

Matt and Grace bonded through their love for the arts, great music and living in the moment. Like many of us do they made mistakes and assumptions that dramatically changed their lives but ultimately made them cherish what they found later in life even more. Sometimes a missed connection means a second chance at love.

"Poetry is just the evidence of life. If your life is burning well, poetry is just ash. She was perfect... poetry in motion - the evidence of a life burning well and bright." 

This story made my laugh, made me swoon but mainly had me crying totally overwhelmed with emotion. If a story can move me to tears then it surely touched my heart and soul.

I can't recommend this book enough!


Renée Carlino is a screenwriter and bestselling author of romantic women's novels and new adult fiction. She lives in Southern California with her husband, two sons, and their sweet dog June. When she’s not at the beach with her boys or working on her next project, she likes to spend her time reading, going to concerts, and eating dark chocolate.

One of the many things I loved about Before We Were Strangers was the amount of musical references, especially because all these bands are all some of my favorites starting with Pearl Jam and Radiohead. 



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