From a book with such an interesting blurb I was expecting so much more than what I got. The Before Now and After Then sets out to be, and in a way mostly achieves, a sweet story about coming out and falling in love for the first time. It kind of feels like Peter Monn wanted his book to be the LGBT equivalent of those sweet, kind of cheesy teenage romance novels that feature heterosexual couples and for that reason I think this book should have a place on library bookshelves; gay teenagers should be able to find romances that they can relate to.
Danny, our protagonist, begins the book in the aftermath of a terrible loss. He loses his identical twin, Sam, in an accident and suddenly finds himself adrift and alone after being dependent on someone else for his whole life. Danny is also gay and finds himself dealing with his burgeoning sexuality on top of everything else that’s happened in his life – his parents are separated after his father confesses to an affair, he’s moved out from the house he shared with his twin and has changed schools. I was really expecting the novel to deal with grief in a major way because the book starts off so promisingly but Danny really doesn’t feel very much at all except for a few moments scattered throughout the novel. It sort of feels as though Danny being an identical twin was thrown in as an afterthought to give his character an interesting quirk rather than a huge part of his character. I have twin cousins and on the best of days it is hard to tell where one ends and the other begins so I wanted Monn to explore what that meant for a character who lost basically his other half. That…does not happen.
Danny…is kind of an asshole. He does feel very detached from the story he’s narrating and I don’t really know if that done on purpose or not but it just doesn’t work for me. He’s almost too functional, too settled in his life to be realistic. And it’s not like Danny internalizes his feelings – he just doesn’t feel the magnitude of grief, or the confusion of being gay. Dude is a bit like a robot until he faints from feeling things. Which again is a weird quirk that isn’t explained. I found Danny’s characterization frustrating to say the least; he is actually one of the worst aspects of the novel.
The love story is okay. I think the biggest problem with it is that Rusty’s and Danny’s relationship lacks emotional impact. You wanna talk about instalove? These two fall head over heels in less than a week and sleep together in even less time. A lot of the things that should have been explored, like Danny being a virgin and knowing little about gay sex, are brushed aside in order for a smooth romance.
I just don’t think this book was for me. I don’t mind light romances but I still need the plot and characters to have emotional resonance – without that I find it next to impossible to invest or be interested in a story. And I still have no idea what the title of this book is supposed to mean.