Sunday, July 07, 2019

Past Perfect Life

Eulberg, Elizabeth. Past Perfect Life
July 9th 2019 by Bloomsbury YA
E ARC from Edelweiss Plus

Ally's life in a small Wisconsin town hasn't been perfect, but she's happy. Her father works in construction, and sometimes things are financially difficult, but she's applying for college scholarships and has a good chance of attending a state university, since she's always done well in school. Her best friend, Marian, is from the biggest family in town, so Ally has built in "cousins" and even a grandma. As her 18th birthday approaches, she may even have a boyfriend in Neil, but things start to go wrong. Her father is arrested... for kidnapping her when she was three. The two are separated and not even allowed to talk, Ally has to move in with Marian's family, and her long lost mother is determined to visit her. Ally is angry with her father, but also misses him, and just wants to stay with Marian and the people in town who are fending off reporters for her. When her mother, Paula, arrives, she is relieved to see Ally (whom she calls Amanda), and demands that she come back and live with her, her husband, and her ten year old daughter in Florida. Since Ally is actually NOT 18 (her age was another thing her father lied about), she has to go. Paula lives in a much nicer house and buys Ally lots of clothes and a new cell phone, and makes a great effort to spend time with Ally and make sure her life is perfect. But it's not, and Paula can't understand why Ally would rather be back in Wisconsin with her friends. Ally's young sister is also very upset, since she has had to live her whole live in the shadow of Ally's disappearance. After Marian and Neil visit Florida, Ally has to decide if she will continue to try to work things out, or return to her regularly scheduled life.
Strengths: Secretly and occasionally, I think every middle grade reader imagines life with other parents, or thinks that surely they are really someone else! I loved that Ally had a great life with her dad and the two were close, playing games and having Taco Tuesdays. The father's backstory of why he kidnapped her was also very effective. The step father was also great-- he really understood want Ally was going through and really tried to help. The sister's reaction was realistic. The small Wisconsin town and the Gleason family were delightful as well. Eulberg is right up there with Smith, Dessen, West and Colasanti for high school books that cross over well to middle school.
Weaknesses: There are two f-bombs, but they are used in times of crisis. The mother comes off very badly; I almost wish she were a bit more sympathetic so that Ally's choice was a little harder to make.
What I really think: Definitely purchasing. I'm not happy about the language, but I have a desperate need for books just like this for some of my advanced 8th grade readers-- they want more high school drama and romance. Aside from the two f-bombs, this is circumspect in behaviors and otherwise very middle grade appropriate. This is sort of a The Face on the Milk Carton (Cooney, 1990) for a new generation. It was a great way for me to wile away a sunny afternoon!

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