Published by Atria Books on August 9th 2016
From USA TODAY bestselling author Renée Carlino (Before We Were Strangers), a warm and witty novel about a struggling writer who must come to grips with her past, present, and future after she discovers that she’s the inspiration for a pseudonymously published bestselling novel.
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?
Let me first say that this was a great read. I had huge expectations for this book based on the premise of the book. This is my first Renee Carlino book so I have no comparison when it comes to her books. I have to say I really, really liked it for the most part. The writing is really beautiful and I was engaged the entire time. However, I was not blown away, even though I loved many things, at times I was frustrated and at times even indifferent to what was going on.
Swear on This Life is definitely different and I did love that. It has a book within a book concept. The main character Emiline is an aspiring writer that teaches writing at the college level, yet struggles with her own writing and finding herself. She’s overall not happy with her current life and she also has a boyfriend she clearly doesn’t love. She hears from her roommate about this amazing book by this young up and coming writer that is soaring in the best-selling charts. When her roommate begs her to read it to maybe find some inspiration, she agrees. While reading the book, she realizes that this book is about her and her childhood and that the up and coming author of the book is her best friend and first love Jase.
“It’s like reading a good book. The kind where you don’t want to skip pages to see what happens at the end. Each moment is a story in itself.”
The book, although fictionalized in parts, explains the trials and tribulations that Em and Jax (book names) had to endure as kids, both with a single addicted parent, both in extreme poverty and both in somewhat abusive households. The book also highlights how their incredible friendship grew into beautiful, pure first love. And up until the part where they got separated, the book is an accurate picture of Emi’s life and childhood. I have to say that I absolutely loved all the parts where she’s reading the actual book. The story is amazing and the writing is superb. I loved the retelling of their story from Jase’s perspective but though Em’s POV. Up to that point, I was blown away by this book.
“People call teenage relationships puppy love, but what Jackson and I had was far beyond that. We had a lifetime of moments that were meaningful, spiritual, and transcendent. We refused to reduce our love to some flippant expression based on our age. We were mature enough to know that our actions, in that moment, were selfish. He didn’t say it, but the impending doom was palpable for both of us. And he was right: we were smart for our age. We both knew that one of us would have to make a sacrifice.”
Back in the present, the main couple hasn’t seen each other in 12 years and there’s all of these other things happening and issues unresolved between them. Through reading the book, Emi is forced to relieve parts of her past she had just buried and resolve all her issues. She was able to heal and find the closure she needed to move on with her life.
Where I felt I lost connection with the story was in the present, especially the last chapters of the book. Not only did I have a hard time connecting with Emi and her decisions, I also had a hard time connecting with Jase. There was this huge build up to their eventual reunion and when that happened there was zero spark. Like all the intensity, passion and chemistry from when they were kids was just gone, and I just expected so much more. There’s also the issue that the heroine has a boyfriend for most of the story, which just delays the eventual reunion even more. The ending, although it felt rushed was pretty great and the epilogue was perfection, it just left me wanting more of this couple!
So, overall, this is a beautifully written book with a great premise and great characters. This is my first Renee Carlino but it definitely won’t be my last and I absolutely recommend it.
❝We can’t always control our circumstances, who our parents are, where we live, or how much money we make, but in those rare moments when we can shape our fate, when we do have the power to make our own happiness, we can’t be too scared to do it.❞
**AN ARC was generously provided by Atria Books in exchange for an honest review**
Funny he would say that because the community pool was a seven-mile bike ride and it cost three dollars to get in. There was no way I was going unless Leila, Jax’s mom gave us a ride and even then, I would have to borrow the money to get in. Frankly, going to the town pool was a pipe dream. It became a myth to us, a fantasy like Disneyland or Europe. Jax and I would try to imagine what it was like to go there.
“I bet they sell popsicles and popcorn and they probably have clowns too,” I said.
It was a warm day; we had made a picnic in the weeds. I laid out my Toy Story sleeping bag I’d had from when I was a kid. Jax brought a jar of applesauce and I brought Fun Dip that my dad had bought me at the 7-11. We mixed the fun dip into the jar and took turns eating spoonfuls.
“Community pools don’t have clowns, genius.”
“How do you know?” I said.
“Because I just do.”
“I bet there’s a high dive, like fifty feet in the air.”
“Do you know how high fifty feet is? You would die hitting the water. The impact would kill you.”
“You’re such a know-it-all, Jackson. Why can’t you let a girl dream? We’re never going to that pool because no one will ever take us, plus, it costs money, and last time I checked you weren’t making any.”
He lay back on the blanket and propped his hands behind his head and closed his eyes. “I’m not a know-it-all, I just have cable. And as soon as I turn sixteen, I’m getting a job. I’ll pay for us to go to the pool. You’ll see, it’s just a big hole with water in it.”
I never really stared at him until that day. His eyes were closed so I took the time to inspect every inch of him. I was so curious about his body. My own body was changing and I was terrified of it. Jax was getting taller. He was going to be tall like his father, but he looked more like his mother in coloring and features. Jax’s mom was French, so they had this creamy skin that looked sun-kissed year around and his brown hair and brown eyes had streams of gold running throughout it. He was letting his hair grow longer because he’d been watching some show on TV that took place in California. He said everyone in California had long hair.
I was trying to grow my own unruly, brown locks out. I don’t know why, I always had it in a braid. Maybe because I thought I would go to California with Jax one day. We both yearned for more than weeds and corn. All the books gave us those silly ideas and filled our heads with things that might never be.
I lay down beside him and stared directly into the sun. He turned on his side and propped his head on his elbow.
“You’ll go blind doing that,” he said in a low voice.
“Leave me alone.”
“Why are you in such a bad mood? You PMSing?”
“What do you know about it?”
“I doubt that and even if I were, it’s beyond rude to talk to me about it.” I hadn’t started my period yet but I wasn’t going to tell him that.