Friday, August 12, 2016

Review: Swear on This Life by Renee Carlino

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?

4.5 Fantastic Stars!

Review by Jen Hagen 

Taking words from one of the fictionalized professors in this book.. BRILLIANT!! (with 2 exclamation points)

A book within a book? I have never read anything with this unique feature. Not only did I have to punish myself by not reading the ending of Ms. Carlino’s book, but I had double the pain by not knowing the ending of the book inside this book. 

Jason and Emiline grew up on a dirt road. They had similar upbringings in that they were being raised by a single parent. The difference is one of them was loved and the other was resented. They made it through the dark days knowing they had each other’s back and found solace in the abandoned shed where the walls hid them from the harsh reality. Inside they could talk about their dreams of being writers in California and think of a future where they didn’t have to eat dry cereal or wait for the snores of a drunk man to know you were safe. In their dreams the school bus driver adopted them and they lived in the school bus. Reality was a far cry from their dreams, and life for them was on the verge of tolerable. The only reason they got through their childhood was because of the bond between these best friends. 

Emiline is now a 27-year-old assistant professor of writing and recently discovered the best-selling novel by J. Colby. What she is reading is strangely reminiscent of her life.

These were the details of my own life. Emerson was none other than me. And Jax? He was most definitely Jason Colbertson, the boy next door who had once been my everything…my first. The same person I hadn’t talked to or seen in over a decade. 

How could the one positive thing in her adolescence be void for over a decade? What happened between these two that would set them on separate paths? How did one of them reach the promised land of California? So many questions that are slowly and heartwrenchingly told through the chapters of a story inside a story. 

A decade is a very long time for your life to change directions. Emiline herself has been struggling to get published, so she is rightfully bitter that somebody is making a fortune and a career off of her story. 

I kept going back to the opening pages before the text, looking for a dedication, but there was nothing. He was going to drag me all the way through my painful past, steal my story, and not even dedicate the damn book to me. 

Emiline has tried to move on from whom she considered the love of her life. Sadly, nobody has lived up to his standards. She has been in a relationship now for 7 years with Trevor. They are comfortable together, but there’s really not a spark between them. There were times I felt like Trevor was more like a brother to her – hanging out watching football, a quick goodbye before he bolts out the door. Emiline does have one characteristic that bugged me – she ran from conflict. She didn’t want to bother working things out with Trevor when they would argue, so she would just literally put on her running clothes and run. Abruptly. Rudely. Just ran out the door. I can see how Trevor would be frustrated at this, but yet Trevor didn’t push the issues so they are both at fault for their lack of communication. 

What happens now that the past Emiline has always kept to herself is now available for everybody to read? Is it serendipity or fate that brings the book to Emiline? Emiline is taking her time reading the book. Will she find the ending to be cathartic or devastating? Maybe it’s a little bit of both. Or perhaps she will even find it to be the push she needs in life. 

“I love you Emiline. I loved you before I even knew what it meant.”

Ms. Carlino is one of those authors you know you are going to read. I love her writing in the way that she tells a completely fluid story; there is no stagnancy -- it always keeps moving. My emotions are always on a perpetual roller coaster while I read her stories, and when I reach the ending I just want to get back on and go for another ride. Thank you for this wonderful ride, Ms. Carlino!

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