You are here

What I Had Before I Had You: A Novel (Hardcover)

    $24.99
    Special Order: Please email for availability

    Staff Reviews


    Perhaps I have a weakness for coming-of-age stories and novels that grapple with mental illness (this book is both), but I was truly impressed with Cornwell's debut, which centers on a mother and a daughter and the ways that mental illness has had an impact on them through generations. You're reading, you're enthralled by the story and the characters and the Jersey Shore in the summer, and sprinkled throughout are these wonderful sentences that make you stop, simple yet resonant like the clear ping of crystal stemware. It reminded me a bit of Simon Van Booy, and I don't think I've seen as strong and solid of a debut since Emily St. John Mandel.

    — From Emily

    Perhaps I have a weakness for coming-of-age stories and novels that grapple with mental illness (this book is both), but I was truly impressed with Cornwell's debut, which centers on a mother and a daughter and the ways that mental illness has had an impact on them through generations. You're reading, you're enthralled by the story and the characters and the Jersey Shore in the summer, and sprinkled throughout are these wonderful sentences that make you stop, simple yet resonant like the clear ping of crystal stemware. It reminded me a bit of Simon Van Booy, and I don't think I've seen as strong and solid of a debut since Emily St. John Mandel.

    — From Emily

    Description


    In What I Had Before I Had You by Sarah Cornwell, a woman must face the truth about her past in this luminous, evocative literary novel of parents and children, guilt and forgiveness, memory and magical thinking, set in the faded, gritty world of the New Jersey Shore.

    Olivia was only fifteen the summer she left her hometown of Ocean Vista. Two decades later, on a visit with her children, her nine-year-old son Daniel, recently diagnosed with bipolar disorder, disappears. Olivia’s search for him sparks tender and painful memories of her past—of her fiercely loving and secretive mother, Myla, an erratic and beautiful psychic, and the discovery of heartbreaking secrets that shattered her world.

    Praise For…


    “[A] bewitching first novel. . . . In chapters alternating between the puzzling, pressurized present and eerily predictive past, Cornwell weaves the novel’s double narrative with the deft touch of a magician and the sure hand of a confident writer to watch.”

    “Twining Olivia’s teenage past with her grown-up present, Cornwell tells a sensitive, clear-eyed, and ever so slightly supernatural story of a family shaped by mental illness.”

    “An incandescent debut by turns thrilling and meditative; part coming of age novel, part exploration of the fragility and complexity of love and family. Sarah Cornwell is a writer to be celebrated and watched.”

    “Captivating. . . . Depth of insight, dreamy prose, and an engrossing storyline mark this wonderful debut.”

    “This debut novel blew me away with the beauty of its language and the honesty of its narrator. . . . The reality of living with a parent with mental illness, and how it impacts a child, is heartbreakingly beautiful in Cornwell’s capable hands.”

    “Sarah Cornwell has a brilliant eye for the telling detail, and a wonderfully original way of embodying family history. I was captivated by her memorable characters and the perfectly paced revelations of their surprising relationships.”

    “This is a remarkable debut by an award-winning short story writer; Cornwell’s psychological study of the stormy relationships in one particular family is engrossing and insightful.”

    “Sarah Cornwell’s first novel is as unnerving and authoritative as Hilary Mantel’s Beyond Black. This is a beautifully written book, bold and wounding. Read it and you will never look at the Jersey Shore in quite the same way again.”

    “Cornwell’s first novel is an authentic and artful coming-of-age story that is uniquely multigenerational. . . . With great attention to detail and a smooth flow between past and present, this emotionally charged narrative is as memorable as it is compelling.”

    “Gorgeously crafted, Cornwell’s tale shimmers and shimmies with nimble dialogue and poignantly flawed characters. . . . Grafting magical thinking onto gimlet-eyed acceptance, Cornwell’s debut novel enchants.”

    “Cornwell’s debut novel is equal parts page-turner and dreamy meditation on the nature of mental illness. . . . An important exploration of the deepest philosophical inquiries into the nature of existence, family, and love. I highly recommend.”

    “Only a few writers can genuinely capture that stormy period between childhood and adulthood and Sarah Cornwell is one of them. . . . The result is an exhilarting, hurtling, unstoppable ride for the reader.”

    “[Cornwell] handles the delicate subject of mental illness and the realities of living with a mood disorder with compassion and grace. . . . [A] thoughtful and powerful debut.”

    “Cornwell’s debut is a dreamy trip to the past with one foot planted in the present. . . . This haunting tale of a childhood distorted by trauma, myth and devotion will stay with readers long after they’ve turned the last page.”

    “An engaging debut. . . . Well-paced, with enough tension to be absorbing, What I Had Before I Had You is replete with lyrical turns of phrase and spot-on details.”

    “If reading literary fiction truly increases one’s emotional intelligence (as a recent study suggests), this lively debut novel by Sarah Cornwell has much to contribute. . . . The novel involves deft plot twists and last-minute revelations that add to the suspense.”

    “You’re reading, you’re enthralled by the story and the characters and the Jersey Shore in the summer, and sprinkled throughout are these wonderful sentences that make you stop, simple yet resonant like the clear ping of crystal stemware.”

    “Sarah Cornwell’s debut novel meshes past and present, mothers and children, and magic and memory to give readers the kind of book they can be glad exists.”

    “The subtler workings of past trauma on present-day lives underscore Sarah Cornwell’s psychological page-turner.”

    “Cornwell skillfully navigates themes of mental illness, memories, and identity with carefully chosen prose. . . . [An] impressive first novel.”
    Product Details
    ISBN: 9780062237842
    ISBN-10: 0062237845
    Publisher: Harper
    Publication Date: January 7th, 2014
    Pages: 288
    Language: English