Title: Life Before by Michele Bacon
Publisher: Sky Pony Press
Genre: Contemporary, Young Adult
Length: 288 pages
Book Rating: B
Complimentary Review Copy Provided by Publisher Through Edelweiss
Seventeen years is a long time to keep secrets, and Xander Fife has gotten very good at it.
Everyone believes Xander has a normal life and a normal family. If he can just get through this summer, he’ll start his real life in college with a clean slate—no risk, no drama, no fear.
Even better, his plans for summer are awesome: lots of pick-up soccer, relaxing afternoons with friends, and an epic road trip. Xander is banking on some long-overdue nights with his ideal girlfriend, the amazing Gretchen Taylor.
Instead of kicking off what had promised to be an amazing summer, however, graduation day brings terror. His family’s secrets are thrust out into the open, and Xander must confront his greatest fear. And survive doing so.
Armed with a fake ID, cash, and a knife, Xander skips town and assumes a new identity. Hundreds of miles from home and in danger, one thing is clear: Xander’s real life is already in progress and just getting through it isn’t enough.
Michele Bacon’s contemporary young adult debut, Life Before, is a poignant journey of self discovery and ultimately, healing, for seventeen year old Xander Fife.
With his high school graduation just days away, Xander is looking forward to this final summer with his friends before his “real” life begins. He and his best friend, Jill Bernard, are looking planning a road trip, he is dating his longtime crush, Gretchen Taylor and best of all, a scholarship to Tulane means he can leave his small hometown behind him once and for all. However, a chance encounter with his estranged father’s new girlfriend sets in motion an unforeseen chain of events that ends in tragedy. In order to protect his friends, Xander decides to leave town until the threat is over, but the situation is not resolved as quickly as he thought it would be. Life on the run is not as easy as he assumed and Xander is soon dependent on the kindness of strangers until it is safe to return home.
Xander is a likable character who is genuinely concerned for his friends’ safety. His childhood was absolutely terrifying until his mom finally divorced his father and although they struggled financially for years, things have turned around for them recently. He is close to his mom and when he unwittingly puts her in danger, Xander is absolutely crushed by the weight of guilt after a confrontation goes horribly wrong. With this guilt pressing down on him, he takes matters into his own hands to protect his friends from danger.
With a pocketful of cash, a hefty dose of paranoia and a somewhat ill-conceived plan, Xander’s journey begins on a Greyhound bus. Arriving in a small college town, his goal is stay out of sight until Jill lets him know it is safe to return home. But things go quickly awry when accommodations are scarce and he is forced to find an alternate place to stay. Xander then goes on to make some rather unwise financial choices and he is soon rather desperate when his funds begin to run low. He discovers a handful of places he can go during the day but at night, his options are very limited. Ignoring Jill’s continued pleas to return home, Xander sticks to his plan even as his situation becomes increasingly precarious. An unexpected friendship yields not only a job and a temporary place to stay, but an unanticipated friendship that provides him with a new perspective about himself and his future.
Life Before is a well-written and engaging young adult novel that delves into some very difficult subject matter. Despite the gravity of these topics, Michele Bacon manages to keep the story from becoming overly dark or angst-ridden. Xander’s plight is sympathetic and although his solution is not exactly well thought out, he gains valuable insight about himself and his life through his experiences and the people he meets. All in all, a very touching story that I highly recommend to fans of the genre.