The Before Now and the After then – Peter Monn
This took me a while to get into. People who hang out with me on goodreads will now that I was really not sold on this when I first started, I read the kindle version, and honestly, I don’t think I started caring about anyone until about the 30% mark. After that I raced through it and found myself getting really engrossed, this is no David Levithan (who to me is the God of LGBT fiction), but it is pretty close and if you’re looking for somewhere to start with YA with LGBT themes, this might just be the book for you.
Danny Goldstein has always lived in the shadow of his identical, twin brother Sam. But when a hurricane of events forces him into the spotlight, he starts to realize that the only thing he’s truly afraid of is himself. With the help of his costume changing friend Cher, a famous gay uncle with a mysterious past of his own, two aging punk rocker parents and Rusty, the boy who will become his something to live for, Danny begins to realize that the music of the heart is truly the soundtrack for living.
So, like I said, this was an enjoyable read, but there were things about it that had me a little concerned for a while there and to help me explain myself, here is a list of things that irritate me in novels:
- Love Triangles
- Privileged white kids moaning about their lives
- LGBT stories when the characters are defined by their sexuality
- Bad grammar
- Spelling mistakes
Some of those things featured in this book.
This was an ARC, so I can excuse the spelling and grammar for now, I’m assuming those sorts of things will be sorted for the general release (along with the cover, but more on that later) and thankfully, it didn’t contain any love triangles, it did however, contain the other things that annoy me about YA novels. Instalove being the main culprit.
I mentioned that I found the beginning hard going and I think a lot of that was the fact that Danny came across as one of those whiny privileged white kids. I know that just because there are people starving in war torn countries that it doesn’t mean that your life isn’t hard and it doesn’t change what you have, but sometimes, I just want these characters to prioritise. Thankfully, Danny’s whiny nature doesn’t last much longer than the first few chapters and thank God for that. At the start of this story, Danny, who has lived in his twin brother’s shadow for his entire life, suddenly finds himself alone, without said brother to hide behind and realises that he doesn’t have his own friends, his own preferences or his own personality, because he never needed any of those things before, he spent all of his time living vicariously through his twin who has just died tragically. This is something that Danny blames himself for a little bit and is something that I expected to occupy a lot of his thoughts, but at the beginning, after the death of his brother, he spends a lot of time moaning about how his parents are making him go to therapy. Well, son, let me splain you a thing, they love you and they’re trying to help you. He lives in a massive house, has accepting, super rich parents and is moaning about how they care about him so much they are trying to help him. I’m sorry, but what you should be moaning about is the fact that your brother has died and that you’re scared without him around to guide you. Priorities, this kid needs them. Luckily, this is a story about a kid discovering who he is, and as the novel progresses, Danny realises that there are more important things for him to be whiny about, like the loss of his brother. The first four chapters or so where a bit of a chore until he has this revelation (apart from chapter one which was genius). So basically, what I’m saying is, stick with it. It gets a bit good, it dips off again towards the end, but you know, the middle is fairly decent.
Once Danny stopped annoying me, I actually really liked him, it was uplifting watching him grow into a person and realise who he is and what he wanted out of his life. He never really develops a personality, but I think that’s sort of the point. Pretty much the whole novel is Danny discovering himself and searching for his own identity, I spent so long aching for him, how much he missed his brother and how scared he was about being on his own that it was kind of wonderful to watch him flower in front of me. There was this really heart breaking bit when his new best friend and his love interest see his bedroom for the first time and notice how he has plain bare walls and nothing really of note anywhere, they both comment on how depressing his room is and Danny tells them that he previously shared a room with Sam and all the posters on the walls and colour schemes etc belonged to him and that he doesn’t know what he likes or wants out of his room. That was heartbreaking. He’s a kid that has never had anything of his own because he was sort of over shadowed by his twin brother and although this is never something that’s bothered him before, it bothered the hell out of me because God, he was so lost and he is a teenager that doesn’t know what sort of posters he wants on his wall because he never had to develop a personality before. This should have made him boring and 2 dimensional, but it didn’t, Danny didn’t really know who he was, but little traits and quirks shone through the narration. We learn that Danny can be sassy, some of the flirtatious comments he makes around Rusty, the love interest, are sarky and brilliant, he’s eloquant and a deep thinker, which is evident when he really digs into himself to talk about how he feels. It was great watching him learn these things about himself too and it really made Sam part of the story even though he isn’t physically around for most of it. The parents were awesome, Uncle Alex was incredible and had his own backstory and I really loved the relationship between Danny and Rusty, even if it was a bit instant. Instalove man. Bloody instalove. If love is that easy, why don’t I have a partner? Like honestly? These characters talk to someone one time and then that’s it, they’re soul mates? I talk to people all the time and I don’t instantly fall in love with them. Instalove grates on me so much. There are other characters that point out that the whole insta love thing is all kinds of stupid and maybe Monn was trying to satirise it, but it didn’t really work for me. Like, seriously, if you’re nervous, shy and aren’t sure who you are yet after losing your twin brother, do you really strip off and make out with a guy you’ve just met? Cos like… That seemed a little out of character to me, but I guess, the point is that Danny doesn’t even know who he is yet, so I shouldn’t presume to know either. Anyway, Rusty was great, apart from his total dick move towards the end, their relationship, though a little fast, was well crafted and very sweet. I liked Rusty, but Danny’s other new friend, Cher, now that was a different story altogether.
I don’t know about anyone else, but going up to someone that hasn’t told you that they’re gay and saying “I’ve always wanted a gay best friend, you can be said gay best friend, my mum would love me to have a gay best friend” is incredibly insulting and is perpetuating a really harmful stereotype. Personally, if someone had said that to me, they would have gotten my best bitch face and the sight of me walking away from them, because that is hella rude. Anyway, after that, it took me a really long time to stop being angry with Cher and pretty much everything she said and did irritated the hell out of me. The point I made at the beginning about the LGBT defining a person thing that seems to happen in pretty much every LGBT novel I read? Cher’s comment (which is pretty much the first thing she ever says to Danny) is something I’m filing away under that point. The other thing is that at the start of the book, Danny spends a lot of time contemplating that he’s gay. He’s really gay. He’s super gay. Sorry, did he tell anyone that he was gay? Well, he’s going to say it again, just in case. It was something that I felt was being hammered into me a little bit, but after he meets Rusty, he has this little epiphany that just because he’s a guy that likes guys, that isn’t the only thing he has going for him. Because Danny is learning who he is, I’m going to assume that this is deliberate on the part of the author, that because Danny is maturing throughout the book, this realisation is something that genuinely occurs as opposed to a book being completely about his sexuality. I guess with the Cher thing, for me she never managed to escape from the best friend category and develop into anything more. Like, Danny has zero personality throughout the whole thing and even he was less blah than Cher was. She was done a great disservice.
Final thing, the cover isn’t… Well… Great.
The mix tape element is good because music featured a lot in this and I am contemplating making a playlist of all the amazing songs that were referenced (IT FEATURES A TEENAGE BOY WHO LIKES THE CURE) but the cover really undersells the book. When this goes on general release or gets a second print run or something, I hope someone does something more exciting with the cover. Because honestly. Dull.
Man, this review is becoming essay like. Basically, end result. This book fairly enjoyable, something that can be read quickly that has gravity, seriousness and some light hearted stuff along the way. It has important messages that I think could benefit people and I think it is a perfectly acceptable addition to the LGBT genre, it has issues, nothing is perfect, and like I said, it is no David Levithan, but it’s enjoyable enough.