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Little Willow
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Before, After, and Somebody In Between by Jeannine Garsee

Fourteen-year-old Martha is dragged along to a new town by her mother and Wayne, her mother's newest loser boyfriend. Over the next few months, her life will become worse than she ever dreamed it could be - and then better - and then a bit of both.

Having skipped a grade, Martha is smarter and younger than her classmates. She is also Caucasian, while the majority of the school and the neighborhood is African-American. Though she makes two friends early on, they can't stop the threats made on her life by very imposing female bully.

When a drive-by in her neighborhood turns her world upside down - or perhaps right-side-up - she is taken in by a well-meaning and well-off family, given a makeover, and accepted into a prestigious school. At the recommendation of her new family's beautiful daughter, she starts going by Gina, a variation on her middle name. As she makes new friends and starts dating an intriguing boy, she tries to put the past behind her, but it's never far behind. When her lies catch up with her, Gina's new life is shattered, and she is forced to become Martha again.

Whether things are good, bad, or in between, she escapes by playing the cello. Ultimately, it is her music that will build her spirit, even when it seems the world is conspiring to break it.

Martha is a complicated protagonist. At first, she is somewhat quiet. Thus, the novel greatly benefits from the first-person narrative, letting readers hear the thoughts and things Martha wishes she had the guts to say and do.

Jeannine Garsee's debut novel, BEFORE, AFTER, AND SOMEBODY IN BETWEEN, addresses abuse in various forms - alcohol, pills, verbal, physical - as well as recovery and redemption. Though no one is ever fully healed nor redeemed, that makes it all the more realistic. Martha has potential, and so does Garsee.

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Read my exclusive interview with Jeannine Garsee!
Tags: books, class of 2k7, cybils, reviews
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