Yes, I know I should have finished reading Samantha Sotto’s “Before Ever After” weeks ago, considering I got the book ahead of its actual launch date, but work wasn’t really cooperating. I only got around to sitting down and reading long tracts of it over the weekend, and I literally just finished reading it minutes ago.
A lot of things have already happened since the book’s launch: Not only has Samantha launched her book at the National Book Store, she has been to New York and back, and has ranked fourth in Amazon’s “Hot New Releases in American Literature”. Everyone else and their grandmas have already written about their on the book.
Oh my Galadriel, I hope I don’t unintentionally plagiarize what somebody else — or their grandma — has already said about the book.
In case some of you guys aren’t already aware of what “Before Ever After” is all about, it tells the story of Shelley Gallus and the trip down memory lane that she embarks on once a 31-year-old man named Paolo arrives on her doorstep claiming to be the grandson of her dead husband, Max. More than that, Paolo also claims that Max is still very much alive and well and living on the island of Boracay in the Philippines.
As Shelley and Paolo head to Boracay to confront Max, the two of them come to the realization that Max is so much more than he ever revealed to either of them. As they finally come face-to-face with the life Max has made for himself in Boracay, will the two of them be able to make the right decision with the information that they’ve been given?
I’m a sucker for books that tackle history — it’s one of the main reasons why I liked Lauren Kate’s “Passion” and found Stephenie Meyer’s “Eclipse” better than “New Moon” — and that’s one of the things I liked about “Before Ever After”. Once Samantha starts delving into the “hidden” stories of the stops on the “The Slight Detour” tour
try saying that five times fast I was already fully committed to the ride, as I was really curious about how she would weave all of these lifetimes into a coherent thread.
From there, it was easy for me to be lulled into a false sense of security about where the story was headed. Because of the way Samantha has framed her story, the chapters tend to have a very episodic feel about them, and in the hands of the wrong writer (I’m looking at you, foreign writer who shall remain unnamed) the reader could end up being very bored. As for me, I wasn’t so much bored but wondering where exactly she was heading with the story.
Oh, me of little faith.
By the time I got to the story of Schottenstift Abbey in the Middle Ages, I began to realize that I wasn’t so much reading a love story but a novelization of Elizabeth Kubler Ross’ Five Stages of Grief, except slightly modified to Shelly Gallus’ Five Stages of Accepting Max’s Immortality. “Before Ever After” goes about it subtly and slowly, building up to a satisfying and tense conclusion that will certainly get discussions going if you’re the type who likes having your stories neatly resolved.
I also like the final reveal of what exactly is it that has given Max the immortality that has been both a gift and a curse to him. While it’s true that the “Immortality is a double-edged sword” trope has been a common one lately because of the popularity of vampire/werewolf/supernatural creature young adult fiction, Samantha turns the trope on its head by giving Max’s immortality a deceptively simple reason for being.
Another thing I liked about the book was Samantha’s knack for creating memorable secondary characters, such as gay couple Simon and Brad; as well as Rose, whose memorable inappropriate one-liners I plan to include in everyday conversation once the opportunities present themselves.
All in all, “Before Ever After” is a great first effort from someone who never even considered becoming a published author growing up. The fact that Samantha is such a great person to hang around with is just a really fortunate bonus to the whole package. I’ll certainly be waiting around for that second novel.
*Photo of baked egs comes from The Guardian.