Review ♥ Before We Were Strangers by Renée Carlino

October 25, 2015 Angela Contemporary, Friends to Lovers, Reviews, Romance, Second Chance Romance

Review ♥ Before We Were Strangers by Renée CarlinoBefore We Were Strangers by Renee Carlino
Published by Atria Books on August 18th 2015
Genres: Contemporary, Romance
Pages: 320
Format: ARC
five-stars

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From the USA TODAY bestselling author of Sweet Thing and Nowhere But Here comes a love story about a Craigslist “missed connection” post that gives two people a second chance at love fifteen years after they were separated in New York City.

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?

M

Let me just cut to the chase. I freaking loved this book! The synopsis sounded unique, and given my weakness for second chance love stories, I knew I had a potential winner on my hands. Well, it delivered all that and a bag of chips. I absolutely devoured it. Before We Were Strangers is easily one of my favorite books of 2015.

The book is divided into two sections: Then (15 years ago) and Now.

Then
Matt, a transfer student from California, meets Grace, a gifted cellist, when he moves into her dorm their senior year at NYU. Matt is a talented photography major and Grace is majoring in music. Matt is determined to succeed without any financial help from his disapproving, affluent father. Grace is desperately poor and struggling to put herself through school. She hardly has enough money for food.

When Matt and Grace meet, they immediately discover they have the same taste in music and a similar appreciation for the arts. Grace is fun and quirky, and Matt is captivated by her vivacious spirit and positive outlook, despite her dire circumstances. Grace is drawn to his intrinsic kindness, self-confidence, and artistic ability. They quickly forge a friendship and are soon inseparable.

This section of the book is expertly paced as their friendship evolves and Grace and Matt eventually become lovers. Renée Carlino perfectly captures the feeling of youthful exuberance: their carefree exploits throughout the city; the joys of self-discovery; and the wonder of falling deeply in love for the first time.

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.

I love how the story is thoughtfully balanced to show the complexity of these likeable characters. Yes, Grace is a free-spirited soul, but she is also weighed down by financial burdens and insecurities; she is both strong and fragile. Matt embraces his individuality yet he craves acceptance. He’s self-assured, but he is still attempting to define himself. Although they love each other, they lack effective communication skills, and their naiveté causes them to make mistakes that have lasting consequences.

After graduation, Matt leaves for a summer internship with National Geographic in South America while Grace stays behind to prepare for grad school. They intend to meet back in New York at the end of summer—at least, that is the plan.

Now
Matt and Grace haven’t seen or spoken to each other in 15 years and Matt is unsatisfied with his life. He is standing on a subway platform one afternoon when he sees Grace boarding a crowded train. Their eyes lock seconds before the doors close and the train departs. Frustrated by his inability to locate her, Matt’s friend suggests placing an ad in the “Missed Connections” section of Craigslist.

If, like me, you’ve never heard of “Missed Connections,” I’ll save you the Google search. “Missed Connections” really exists in major cities. It’s a forum for missed opportunities to connect with someone—likely a stranger—to whom you’re attracted, often because you were too shy to approach them. People place an ad describing the location and experience on the off chance the person they are trying to reach sees the post and gets in touch.

So, Matt posts a “Missed Connections” ad that hit me right in the feels:

To My First Wife, the Green-Eyed Lovebird:

We met fifteen years ago, almost to the day, when I moved my stuff into the 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 and photography, lounging in Washington Square, and all the interesting things we did to make money. I learned more about myself that year than any other.

We lost touch in the summer when I went to South America. I came back and you were gone. There was nothing left in your empty dorm room but the old guitar and just a hint of your perfume. What was it? Lilac?

Our RA, the one who looked like David Bowie and smelled like fish sticks, said you went to travel the world. I hope you got to see the world. I hope life has treated you well.

 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. 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?

M

Grace sees Matt’s post and the two reconnect. I don’t want to say much more because I found the joy to be in the discovery of the unfolding plot.

Renée Carlino’s writing is effortless, and the story is engrossing and intensely poignant. Even the chapter titles, such as “ I Looked for You Inside of Everyone Else,” “I Needed to Know You,” and, “We Made Unspoken Promises,” moved me.

This book is so skillfully crafted it can be considered both a New Adult and an Adult Contemporary novel. It’s a friends-to-lovers story as well as a second chance romance.

I think Before We Were Strangers will appeal to anyone who has ever wondered if their life might be different—better—if they had chosen another path.

The present is our own. The right-this-second, the here-and-now, this moment before the next, is ours for the taking. It’s the only free gift the universe has to offer. The past doesn’t belong to us anymore, and the future is just a fantasy, never guaranteed. But the present is ours to own. The only way we can realize that fantasy is if we embrace the now.

This is the first book I’ve read by Renée Carlino, but it certainly won’t be my last.

** ARC kindly provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review. Quotes have been taken from the pre-published version and may vary from the finished book. **

five-stars

About Renee Carlino

Renee Carlino

Renée Carlino is a screenwriter and bestselling author of contemporary women’s novels and new adult fiction. Her books have been featured in national publications, including USA TODAY, Huffington Post, Latina magazine, and Publisher’s Weekly. 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.


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