Review: Taylor Before and After

‘There aren't just two kinds of people in the world!’ Oh, gosh this couldn't ring more true. This phrase sounds inconsequential but like so many other lines from this story, it resounds with implication.

Taylor Before and After is a novel that delivers exactly what the title proclaims: a look at one young girl's life before and after a life-altering event. The before and after are segmented into seasons that represent promise, Fall or Autumn - the before, and grimness and despair, Winter - the after. Towards the conclusion, Spring makes an appearance but more on that later.

Taylor is a tween starting a new school in a new American state which happens to be the island of Hawaii. Nearly everything is exotic and evocative at first. She is intoxicated by the tropical perfumes of the island, its mesmerizing views and its addictive surfing culture. However not everything that sparkles are diamonds and soon the charms of an island lifestyle decay leaving Taylor feeling entrapped and suffocated by its corrupt undercurrents and the banal atrocities that tourists are too sun-struck to notice.

Her discomfortiture and the slow dismantling of her confidence, is told in a succession of epistolary styled writing entries; a regular free-writing exercise set by her creative languages teacher. Through these journal entries, Taylor develops an internal dialogue with herself that allows us glimpses of her mental health and well-being.

At first both states of being appear severely marred. Weakened, bruised beyond repair. Entries are disjointed and indirect yet each provide a clue to what really lies beneath Taylor's intense pain. We gradually learn more as her entries develop in depth and detail and she begins to purge her grief and frustrations. She dares to share her deepest thoughts and dreams and thus begins to repair, one tearful word at a time. It is interesting to note that Taylor's Autumn / Fall entries, her Before, reflect a voice that is still innocent and girlish, unaffected and cheerful. Winter entries feel more somber and sound as though they are the thoughts of a much older teen, which is fitting as the passage of time describes Taylor's emotional maturing as much as its destruction.

There is as much humor as there is tragedy in this story of loss, gains, betrayals and dealing with grief. For those who've experienced a cataclysmic event like the death of someone close when they were still young and impressionable, this will be a revealing novel. At times confronting, the staccato style of the beginning settles into a need to know the complete story. Englund's references to surfing and thought provoking writing prompts along with intimate interactions with Taylor and the terrible psyche of middle school friendship groups provides enough tension and emotional development to keep pages turning. The ending - Spring - gently draws readers into an ocean of hope. It's just that sometimes, in life, we have to weather a few other seasons before we get there.

An evocative read suited to older reading tweens and middle grade students. Lovers of YA will also appreciate the complex older themes of Taylor's story.

Title: Taylor Before and After
Author: Jennie Englund
Publisher: Pan Macmillan, $29.99 
Publication Date: February 2020
Format: Hardback
For ages: 11 – 15
Type: Middle Fiction Mature Readers

Buy the Book: Pan Macmillan, Boomerang Books, Booktopia


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