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Review: The Girl She Used To Be

June 25, 2009 at 6:17 pm by  

Melody Grace McCartney does not know who she is. Well, to be more precise: she does not know who she would have been. When Melody was six, she and her parents witnessed something they shouldn’t have. An act of mafioso brutality. Talked into testifying, her parents went into the Witness Protection Program, taking Melody with them. And ruining any chance she had of living a normal life. Also gone is any possibility of an extraordinary existence. The assassination of her parents underscores a threat so severe that Melody must not stand out. Unable to attach to others, to excel in any way, or even to enjoy the banal existences lamented by her peers, Melody finds herself writhing in an unnatural state of forced mediocrity.

When a chance to escape this protective prison arises, Melody seizes it. The offer of freedom, however, is coming from one of the very people that wants her dead. So begins an incredible journey of self-discovery embarked on by a woman who has never been allowed to search for herself. Hounded and chased her entire life, living in shadows and fear, Melody seeks liberty as she rushes to those who would have her dead.

I have to say, David Cristofano delivers big-time in this debut novel. The Girl She Used to Be had me laughing out loud on almost every page. David has Chuck Palahniuk‘s ability to dream up odd character quirks that are as revealing as they are impossibly unique. Here is a girl with no family who does not steal Wi-Fi in her apartment, she buys baby monitor receivers and steals domesticity. Someone who hangs out in Hallmark stores and pretends to be shopping for family and friends that do not exist.

Because of these eccentricities, her wit, and her vulnerability, David’s protagonist is impossible not to love. And he writes from the female perspective with such aplomb that I was several chapters in before I remembered that this was a male author. Of course I do not deny the possibility that I am unable to read from the female perspective, so I’m not sure what my opinion is worth in this matter.

A testament to my male brain, perhaps, was the giddiness I felt from the chapter titles. Building on Melody’s love of mathematics, David uses an equation that solves for each chapter’s number. They begin as simple as possible, with a non-zero number raised to the zeroth power, then they build in complexity as the story works to its climax, settling back down again during the denouement. It is a clever premise that had me twisting my brain to start each chapter, admiring each problem as it mirrored the severity of what was being ‘graphed’ onto the plot.

I could not have been more satisfied with where these plotted curves ended up. Every time I felt like the book was being predictable, David would shoot off in another direction. Just when I thought I was heading to a known conclusion, some variable altered itself and threw my calculations off. It is an entertaining ride, this struggle by a lover of the rigid known as she tries to win for herself a life with no solution.

I hope a lot of you check this book out. The price on Amazon is very reasonable and it is the sort of addictive read that most will knock out in a long session or two. More importantly, this is a debut novel that cracks the door for a new author, allowing a bit fresh air into our bookstores. As much as I hate to compare authors and politicians, they share something in common–what starts out as a dream eventually becomes a career, with a noticeable effect on their output. So think of this book as a stimulus package with guaranteed benefit. Register for my political party: The Anti-Incumbents, and buy this book. Yes you can.


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