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Saturday, July 6, 2019

Book review: Past Perfect Life by Elizabeth Eulberg

Ally Smith lives in an adorable small town in Wisconsin, where she is in with the "in crowd," which is a family that comprises half the town (literally). The boy she likes might actually be into her. And she's pretty sure about her college plans. Until, while filling out applications, her social security number is bounced back as invalid. She goes to her high school counselor to sort it out, and... The FBI shows up. Turns out, she's been kidnapped. By her beloved father, from a mom she never knew, and in fact believed to be dead.

At first, she hopes she can finish out her senior year staying with her friends at her high school, but her mother, who is understandably elated to have found her and baffled by Ally's lack of similar excitement, wants to take Ally home to Florida and her new family. As Ally is under 18 (which she did not know--her dad had changed her birthday too), she has no choice in the matter. She gets to see her father one time after he's locked up, and then she's shipped off.

She is furious at her father but also bereft at his loss. She is annoyed by her new overprotective and overbearing mother. She hates her new school (where, to avoid press, she also has to go by a pseudonym and make up a backstory which is harder than you'd think.) Her new younger half-sister seems to be a total bitch. She can't even have her beloved dog. In a very nice touch, her new step-father is the most understanding and empathetic--but not too much--person in the story, by far. Ally is confused, abandoned, lonely while being overloved, hiding from reporters, trying to meet a huge new family she never knew existed, trying to reconcile her past and her feelings for her father, and in general, just dealing with a new life that seems like a hot mess.

This is a very plot-driven book which plays out a fascinating what-if scenario (and not one as far-fetched as you might think as the vast majority of kidnapping cases, the kidnapper is a family member and they're due to custody battles.) As I am of a certain age, this REALLY reminded me (in plot device, not in storytelling or anything else) of The Face on the Milk Carton by Caroline B. Cooney, which I don't remember as being this angsty. But while the character in that book may have had an easier transition, Ally's very difficult situation actually felt more realistic.

This review is a part of Kid Konnection, hosted by Booking Mama, a collection of children's book-related posts over the weekend.

This book is being published by Bloomsbury, which is distributed by Macmillan, my employer.


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