Title: Swear on this Life by Renee Carlino
Publisher: Atria Books
Genre: Contemporary, New Adult, Romance
Length: 320 pages
Book Rating: C+
Complimentary Review Copy Provided by Publisher Through NetGalley
From USA TODAY bestselling author Renée Carlino (Before We Were Strangers), a warm and witty novel about a struggling writer who must come to grips with her past, present, and future after she discovers that she’s the inspiration for a pseudonymously published bestselling novel.
When a bestselling debut novel from mysterious author J. Colby becomes the literary event of the year, Emiline reads it reluctantly. As an adjunct writing instructor at UC San Diego with her own stalled literary career and a bumpy long-term relationship, Emiline isn’t thrilled to celebrate the accomplishments of a young and gifted writer.
Yet from the very first page, Emiline is entranced by the story of Emerson and Jackson, two childhood best friends who fall in love and dream of a better life beyond the long dirt road that winds through their impoverished town in rural Ohio.
That’s because the novel is patterned on Emiline’s own dark and desperate childhood, which means that “J. Colby” must be Jase: the best friend and first love she hasn’t seen in over a decade. Far from being flattered that he wrote the novel from her perspective, Emiline is furious that he co-opted her painful past and took some dramatic creative liberties with the ending.
The only way she can put her mind at ease is to find and confront “J. Colby,” but is she prepared to learn the truth behind the fiction?
Swear on this Life by Renee Carlino is a novel within a novel that alternates between past and present. Emiline (Emi) and Jason “Jase” Colbertson helped one another survive their dysfunctional childhoods only to lose touch after Emi moves out of state. Reunited as adults, they still remain separated by Emi’s anger and unresolved issues but will the ending of a bestselling novel bring them together?
Despite her loving relationship with her aunt and her partner and some much needed therapy, Emi is still struggling with the baggage from her abusive childhood. Her long term relationship with Trevor does not seem to moving forward and her career is somewhat stalled as well. Emi is rather closed off and she refuses to discuss her past with anyone, including Trevor. When her roommate convinces her to read the bestselling debut novel by the mysterious “J. Colby”, Emi is stunned then angered to discover the book is based on her childhood so she immediately knows her old friend Jase is the author. While the story is mostly factual, Emi is incensed that he wrote the book from her perspective. Even worse, Jase changed some very important details of a pivotal event from their childhood. Tracking down him is surprisingly simple, but will Emi’s confrontation with Jase finally give her the opportunity to heal the wounds from her past?
Emi is so prickly and combative that she is very difficult to like. She runs from problems instead of facing them and she is fairly hot tempered. She is not very honest about her past so a lot of her troubles are of her own making. Emi’s childhood was truly horrific but since she has not properly dealt with it, those long ago events continue to define her and control her actions although she is now in her late twenties.
First impressions of Jase as an adult are not exactly favorable. He comes across as cocky and arrogant rather than self-assured and empathetic. This grown up version of Jase is rather disappointing since he was so caring, kind and compassionate while he and Emi were growing up. His obnoxious behavior at their first meeting as adults certainly does not help his image. Jase had ample opportunity to reach out to Emi over the years so it is a little perplexing why he chose to write a book about their experiences instead meeting her in person.
The storytelling in Swear on this Life is rather unique since Emi and Jase’s childhood is revealed through the chapters of Jase’s book. While this insight is invaluable, too much of the novel concentrates on the events of the past. Emi and Jase’s interactions as adults are quite limited and somewhat acrimonious. Jase’s novel serves as a catalyst for Emi to work through the residual issues from her childhood which does help her resolve her present day problems with Trevor and her career. She is also slow to finish reading Jase’s novel which makes it difficult to believe Emi’s abrupt attitude change toward Jase and ultimately, the final resolution to their storyline.
The concept for Swear on this Life is interesting but overall, the execution is little dissatisfying. While their childhood experiences are certainly heartbreaking, Emi and Jase are little immature and not very easy to like. Although Emi’s roommate and aunts are much more appealing, Trevor is a bit of a stereotype and he does not treat Emi very well. Renee Carlino does not hesitate to tackle difficult subject matter in her novels and although this latest release is a bit of a disappointment, it is a fast-paced read with a satisfying ending.