Review: Swear on This Life by Renee Carlino

Swear on This Life by Renee Carlino

Swear on This Life contains a book within a book. And as often happens for me with this type of novel, I enjoyed the fictional book better than the actual book. That is, I wish Carlino had just written the story she had her character write.

Emiline, a struggling author and adjunct professor, has watched everyone around her get published, but she is still struggling to find her voice. Her roommate gives her the latest craze novel, and though she is reluctant to read someone else’s successful piece of fiction, Emi gives it a shot. She recognizes the story as that of her own childhood, and she is not happy that her first love has exploited her in such an awful way.

I found Emi to be a very poorly developed character. She is closed off, so that makes her a hard character to get to know, but I just did not enjoy reading her chapters. When she dove into the J. Colby’s novel, which is included as full chapters (probably totaling more pages than the “real” story of Emi), I couldn’t stop reading.

Emerson and Jackson grow up extremely neglected. Her father is an abusive alcoholic and his mother is a drug addict. They learn to rely on each other and begin a romance as they get older. The events of one awful night end up tearing them apart. I felt for these characters right away. They were much more developed and Em’s voice was engaging. Granted, I love me some YA, so maybe that’s the reason I connected more with Em than with Emi.

There’s drama with Emi and J. Colby, and I liked that story line, but, while I loved Carlino’s Before We Were Strangers, this book just didn’t have the same magic. It’s good, but not great.

Rating: 3 stars

Swear on This Life
Renee Carlino
Simon and Schuster
August 9, 2016

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?

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