By Awnali Mills
I love getting good book recommendations from co-workers, and The Ethan I Was Before by Ali Standish was definitely a good one.
Ethan, his mom and dad, and his older brother Robbie have all moved to Palm Knot, Florida, from Boston to begin a new life with their Grandpa Ike. They needed to move because Ethan is totally losing it. Something terrible happened with him and his best friend and neighbor, Kacey. Nobody ever talks about it because they don’t want to trigger something in Ethan that will make him run away—again. Ethan is well aware that he’s made his whole family miserable, but there’s nothing he can do about it. Now Robbie will barely acknowledge his existence, his mom and dad are fighting all the time, and they’re also fighting with Grandpa Ike.
Ethan just wants to be left alone, but he’s the new guy, and in a tiny place like Palm Knot, that makes him interesting. He gets caught in between cliques, and ends up making a new friend, Coralee, who isn’t exactly popular, but she’s a lot of fun, and doesn’t care two cents what anyone else thinks. But when everything isn’t as it seems, will he be able to keep her friendship, or will he lose her like he lost Kacey?
There was a lot of stuff going on in this book, making it a very interesting read: the value of friendship, dealing with grief, family relationships, the importance of truth, and helping endangered species (yup, the endangered red wolf makes an appearance in the story). This would be a great book for anyone dealing with guilt or grief. I loved how gentle the book was without pulling any punches. Ethan’s whole family is suffering, and how do you deal with that? How do you begin to move on and accept that things will never be the same? Standish does a great job of answering those questions in an appropriate, realistic way. Give this book to anyone in grades 4-6 who enjoys good realistic fiction.
P.S. My co-worker who recommended the book said that it made her cry. I was almost to the end of the book and had the audacity to think, “Ha! I’m gonna make it without crying!” Famous last words.