The Ethan I Was Before by Ali Standish

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The Ethan I Was Before by Ali Standish

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Category: Teens
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Jill Murphy
Reviewed by Jill Murphy
Summary: Engaging story about coming to terms with grief and guilt - even when family secrets get in the way. The plot relies a little too much on those secrets but the emotional heart of the book is lovely.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 400 Date: June 2017
Publisher: Orchard
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 1408342928

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Ethan and his family are moving to a little town in Georgia from the big city of Boston in a last ditch attempt to help Ethan get over the loss of best friend Kacey. And the move does give Ethan a great deal else to think about. There's living in Grandpa Ike's dilapidated old house and the uncommunicative Grandpa Ike himself. There's a new school with a new pecking order to navigate. There's a new friend in Coralee, who has a great line in tall stories and who likes adventures almost as much as Kacey did. But it's hard to leave grief behind, especially when you feel as guilty as Ethan does...

Oh, aww. I loved The Ethan I Was Before. It's a story of family secrets and the stages of grief. It's also a mystery - why does Ethan feel so guilty? What actually happened to Kacey? Why has Ethan's mother been estranged from Grandpa Ike for so many years? Many questions need answering in this multi-layered middle grade novel and it's instantly engaging.

It's not perfect. My press sheet tells me The Ethan I Was Before is intended for 9-11 year-old readers, which would fit characters of 12 as children identity best with characters of their own age or a year or two above. But this is a long book of almost 400 pages with quite an advanced vocabulary and complex sentence structures. I'd say the core target group is more 11-13 year-olds. And the plot relies much too heavily on none of the characters ever being truthful with each other. Yes, adults do keep things from children too much and too often. Yes, it's tough to be honest with your friends if you think they won't like you any more if you tell them the truth. But people are honest and open at least some of the time. The Ethan I Was Before is a book where nobody is honest until the bitter, bitter end and the truth is dragged out of them.

But you can forgive these things because Ethan is such a lovely central character. His grief at the loss of Kacey is exacerbated by guilt and it's consuming him. But you can see straight away that he's a decent, kindly soul with a steadfast moral compass. And so you're rooting for him to find a way through all his awful feelings. And you can't help but love the brash, forthright Coralee whose tall stories are so wonderfully entertaining that you really don't mind that much how true they really are. The same goes for most of the vividly drawn cast of supporting characters, especially the wonderfully taciturn Grandpa Ike.

There are many untruths in The Ethan I Was Before, but the emotional heart of the book is completely honest. And the friendship between Ethan and Coralee, in which they each show the other how to think about their problems in new ways, is tremendously touching. Standish builds tension well as she gradually reveals everyone's truth and she will keep her readers engaged right to the very end. The book conveys emotions beautifully - both the painful ones and the joyful ones - and it will reassure children that there is light at the end of every tunnel.

Recommended for readers of 11 and above who enjoy emotionally intense reads, special friendships, and a mystery to unravel.

Vicky Angel by Jacqueline Wilson is another fabulous middle grade story about coming to terms with grief. Breathing Underwater by Julia Green is beautiful and will also suit older teens.

Buy The Ethan I Was Before by Ali Standish at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Ethan I Was Before by Ali Standish at

Buy The Ethan I Was Before by Ali Standish at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Ethan I Was Before by Ali Standish at


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