Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Book Review: "The Before Now and After Then" by Peter Monn

Sam and Danny Goldstein are identical twins. Sam is the confident one—athletic, popular, and tremendously protective of his brother. Danny is more than content to live in Sam's shadow, sharing his friends, and knowing that the two share an inseparable bond. Sam is always looking out for Danny, and plans an elaborate scheme for Danny to finally come out to their parents.

In an instant, everything changes, and the world and the life that Danny has known and depended on is totally turned upside down. He finds himself in a new school, living in a new house, and realizing that the reason he was always to content to live in Sam's shadow is that he's not comfortable standing out or being noticed. He isn't really sure who he is, and he doesn't know if he's all that interested in finding out the answer to that question. But what he does know is that he's tired of people telling him how he should feel, or what he should do, and he's tired of being angry and sad all the time.

"All of my life, I had always felt like I was watching other people's lives instead of being part of my own."

When Danny meets Cher, a larger-than-life fellow classmate who has always been dying for a gay best friend, she starts to force him out of his shell, little by little, even if he's still not quite comfortable talking about himself or knowing how to be a good friend. And then he meets Rusty, a boy who appears fearless, who helps Danny discover who he is, and what his heart wants. All the while, Danny's journey is helped, and at times complicated, by his former punk rocker parents and his mother's lifelong best friend Alex, an author whose most famous book was a way for him to deal with the isolation he felt about being gay.

I've said this before, but I wish books like The Before Now and After Then existed when I was a teenager, if only to help me convince that I wasn't alone, that life beyond the angst and anger and bullying of high school could and would dissolve into something better. This is a sweet, funny, emotional book, and Peter Monn does an excellent job making you care about his characters and what happens to them. The book is a little overly dramatic at times, and Danny in particular isn't always the most likeable person, but I kept thinking of him as if he were real, saying, "Well, he's been through a lot..."

Books like this give me hope, and I hope they bring those same feelings to others who are lucky enough to find it. I look forward to reading more from Monn in the future.

"I realized that time kept ticking whether we liked it or not. Life kept happening. And sometimes things weren't measured in time. Sometimes, hours, weeks, and even years went by without us even noticing. Sometimes people died and sometimes people left, but not always. Sometimes they stayed."

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