Summary: When Melody Grace McCartney was six years old, she and her parents witnessed an act of violence so brutal that it changed their lives forever. The federal government lured them into the Witness Protection Program with the promise of safety, and they went gratefully. But the program took Melody's name, her home, her innocence, and, ultimately, her family. She's been May Adams, Karen Smith, Anne Johnson, and countless others--everyone but the one person she longs to be: herself. So when the feds spirit her off to begin yet another new life in another town, she's stunned when a man confronts her and calls her by her real name. Jonathan Bovaro, the mafioso sent to hunt her down, knows her, the real her, and it's a dangerous thrill that Melody can't resist. He's insistent that she's just a pawn in the government's war against the Bovaro family. But can she trust her life and her identity to this vicious stranger whose acts of violence are legendary? -- Grand Central Publishing
In high school, I used to read a lot of books about the Mafia. Chalk it up to the influence of The Godfather movies and RAGE OF ANGELS, but I couldn't get enough of them. Since that time, I can't say that I've read very many fictional Mafia books (I have read a few non-fiction ones) but THE GIRL SHE USED TO BE by David Cristofano looked kind of interesting to me. I was drawn to it because 1) it was a story with some Mafia references, and 2) the main character was a woman. I thought it was a unique premise for a novel.
I found THE GIRL SHE USED TO BE a very readable novel. I definitely had some issues with Melody because I really didn't like her very much. That's not to say that I didn't enjoy the book -- I'm just saying that I found myself getting upset with her and thinking that she needed to grow up. I tried to feel sympathy towards her, and at times I did; but she was a complex character that had a great deal of self-pity. While I can never relate to the traumas that Melody experienced in her life, I did understand the difficulties of starting over (and fitting in) that she felt. As a child, I moved every few years; but at least, I was always able to be me. I can't imagine having to start a new identity and not being able to discuss my past.
Despite not feeling a great deal of compassion towards Melody, I couldn't put this book down. Melody gets caught up in whirlwind of activity going back and forth between the federal government and the son of a mafioso -- she doesn't know who to trust. And to be honest, I didn't know either. The action in the book became much more frantic, and I found myself reading at a faster and faster pace because I couldn't wait to find out what happens. This book definitely has its fair share of twists and turns and it kept me guessing until the last few pages.
THE GIRL SHE USED TO BE is Mr. Cristofano's first novel, and I think it's a very impressive start. While I was interested in this book because the main character was a woman, I was a little surprised by the author's decision to write this book from a woman's point of view. I was so happy to stumble upon this essay where Mr. Cristofano writes about this very idea. I really appreciate how he thinks writing in a female voice gives him additional insight into the women in his life. I definitely didn't relate to Melody at all (mainly because I can't imagine hiding out for twenty years with different identities), but I think he did a pretty good job of creating a memorable female character. There is also an interview with him that sheds some light on the novel.
I wasn't so sure that I was going to recommend THE GIRL SHE USED TO BE for a book club selection; however when I read the discussion questions, I changed my mind. These questions will definitely help keep your discussion on track; and they cover a lot of interesting issues. I especially like the questions having to do with Melody's state of mind and her inability to trust and form relationships.
Thanks to Miriam at Hachette Book Group for sending me this book!