Publisher's Note:  

In What I Had Before I Had You by Sarah Cornwell, a woman must face the truth about her past in this luminous, evocative literary novel of parents and children, guilt and forgiveness, memory and magical thinking, set in the faded, gritty world of the New Jersey Shore.Olivia was only fifteen the summer she left her hometown of Ocean Vista. Two decades later, on a visit with her children, her nine-year-old son Daniel, recently diagnosed with bipolar disorder, disappears. Olivia’s search for him sparks tender and painful memories of her past—of her fiercely loving and secretive mother, Myla, an erratic and beautiful psychic, and the discovery of heartbreaking secrets that shattered her world.

What I Had Before I Had You: A Novel

by Sarah Cornwell

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Overall Review:  

A mother who blames herself for her child's disease, ghosts from the past, a divorce, a missing child . . . these are all subjects (among others) that play an important role in What I had Before I Had You. Although many tough situations could have bogged this story down, the author did a good job of keeping the story interesting and upbeat.


This novel tells the story of a middle-aged mother who is newly divorced and fighting demons that have lingered from her childhood. I had the impression that she was so scarred by a difficult childhood that she tried to be a supermom to her own children so they wouldn't have to experience any of the pain she had. I felt like the story started out strong, but lost a bit of its momentum about a third of the way through. A lot happened in the first few chapters, and it was almost as if after that, a thread began to unravel and the author was scrambling to tie up the loose ends. This made for a story that was at times hard to follow, though it was engaging enough to keep me interested.


While this book was not one of the best I have read recently, I still feel like it does deserve some praise as it was well-written and had a powerful story of love and the lengths we go to when we know we must heal and forgive.

Content Analysis:  

Profanity/Language:  9 religious exclamations; 11 mild obscenities; 3 derogatory names; 4 anatomical terms; 21 F-word derivatives


Violence/Gore:  A woman has a miscarriage, some blood and gore is mentioned with graphic detail; a group of teens break and enter into an abandoned building; two girls get in a physically violent fight; a young child goes missing; two animals get in a fight and some blood is involved.


Sex/Nudity:  A teenager "accuses" another of being a virgin; a teen boy is mentioned to lose his virginity; a teen girl describes what sex feels like; two minors have sex in one brief scene; one brief scene of a minor having sex with some nudity; teens kiss multiple times; adults kiss; adults are mentioned to have had sex, with no detail; a mother and daughter have a mature discussion regarding sex; two girls kiss each other in what one of them interprets to be a sexual way.

Mature Subject Matter:  

Divorce, ghosts, psychic ability, teen partying, child abandonment.

Alcohol / Drug Use:  

Minors drink; minors smoke; use of marijuana by minors is mentioned; a teen boy is mentioned to be selling marijuana; a teen girl is mentioned to be drunk; teen girls illegally procure prescription medicine.

Reviewed By Lydia
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