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Susan Stairs' The Story of Before

Books & Poetry

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“Something bad’s going to happen this year.”

Eleven-year-old Ruth Lamb is watching a snowstorm from the window of her family’s new home when she utters those ominous words. Something bad is going to happen. But what? And when?

While her family happily settles into its home on the Hillcourt Rise Estate, Ruth lives her life under a constant cloud of doubt, watching and waiting for the “bad thing” to occur. But nothing can prepare her for the events that are about to unfold. How will she cope when they tear apart her family?

In her haunting debut novel, Susan Stairs tells the emotional story of a family devastated by tragedy and their heartbreaking journey towards healing.

The Story of Before, by Susan Stairs, Corvus Books, $27.99

The Story of Before, by Susan Stairs, Corvus Books, $27.99

Set in Ireland, The Story of Before is told in beautiful detail from Ruth’s perspective and flashes between the past and the present as she recounts the day she learned her mother was pregnant – an event that inspired the family’s move – and describes her family’s transition into the well-established community of Hillcourt Rise. Unlike her brother Mel and sister Sandra, who both thrive in their new environment, Ruth lives a solitary life and her poignant observations of those around her hint at a wisdom beyond her years.

But Ruth is haunted by a terrifying experience that precedes her shocking premonition, and her fear of the impending danger leads her to pursue a tenuous and at-times-reckless relationship with Shayne Lawless, the local trouble-maker, and his strange friend David O’Dea.

Stairs has a real gift for storytelling and her wonderfully descriptive writing creates a rich world full of emotionally complex characters. Through Ruth, the reader gets to know the Lamb family intimately and its members become more than just characters on a page – which makes the horrible events that follow seem even more devastating.

The bad thing itself is not revealed until the end of the book, but it hangs over the story, creating a sense of tension and fear. Ruth’s every action is motivated by a desperate desire to stop it from happening, and when she fails she finds herself questioning everything she thought she knew about her world. Can anyone really change their fate or is our destiny already written? These are questions anyone who has experienced loss can relate to, and the author’s ability to connect with the reader on this emotional level is just one of the things that make this book so enjoyable.

With its powerful messages of forgiveness and acceptance, The Story of Before is a wonderful and touching read which tugs at the heartstrings and reminds us how precious life can be.

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