Between Before and After by Maureen Doyle McQuerry is a historical coming-of-age young adult story about the complex bonds between mothers and daughters. Told in dual narratives between 1918 New York City and 1955 San Jose, CA.
Molly is a teenaged writer in 1955 and when we meet her, she is failing an English assignment and shielding her little brother Angus from the unexpected result of her mother taking the pruning shears to the garden to decapitate the flowers in a fit of rage. Yet, despite the picture we get of a distracted, maybe negligent overworked mother, we also flip back in time to witness their mother, Elaine, a teenager herself in 1919, left to protect her younger brother when their mother dies in the flu epidemic and their father gets bogged down trying to provide all the two young children need. While Molly tries to investigate the history that her mother hides, the reader is ushered into a sort of confessional, which only heightens the religious undercurrents of miracle working and fairytales that interlace the two characters’ stories. To further the discussion of real versus imagined, and fantasy versus belief, there is Stephen, the little brother Elaine protects from the foster family that would easily devour him as a child, and the religious order that could consume him as the adult priest. All these elements were incorporated really well to illustrate the dangers posed, even what at once, appears innocently appealing.
While this book seems to be pitched toward a Young Adult audience and the plot was linear enough to be followed by a teenaged reader, I thought the themes were complex enough to be enjoyed by fans of more advanced literary fiction. The Hansel and Gretel retelling was well illustrated by both stories and contrasted really well with the religious inclusions. Having the characters as writers who tell stories as part of their identities, really added a layer of complexity and interest when it was parlayed against the verification of a religious miracle. Kudos to the author for delivering this insightful history discussion cloaked in an intriguing story.
I received a free ARC of Between Before and After from Blink YA publishers and TLC Book Tours, in exchange for an honest review. While I might not have chosen this book otherwise, I was glad that they offered me the opportunity to read it, because I thoroughly enjoyed the experience. I devoured this page turner in a single morning and have no hesitation to encourage you to pick it up yourself. I enjoyed this book and recommend it to fans of Boy, Snow, Bird by Helen Oyeymi, which also used a fairytale to illustrate the complex relationship between mothers and daughters.
Title: Between Before and After
Author: Maureen Doyle McQuerry