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