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The Girl I Used to Be

by Heidi Hostetter

Rating: ***

Jill Goodman thinks she has the perfect marriage so she is devastated when it ends almost overnight. Wealthy ex-husband Marc leaves her with nothing but a heavily mortgaged beach house on the New Jersey coast. Jill intends to sell as quickly as possible but when she visits Dewberry Beach, she falls in love with the seaside town. However, when she discovers what the locals think of the house and what Marc had really been up to, Jill knows she has her work cut out to be accepted...

The Girl I Used to Be is the perfect book for a lazy holiday read or to while away a rainy afternoon or two. The prose is confident, well-paced and gives an immediate sense of reassurance. The opening with Mrs Brockhurst is intriguing although a little familiar and it was surprising that this connection was not fully utilised further in the main story. Notwithstanding, once the action shifts to Marc’s birthday party the story really moves up a level. Ms Hostetter really conveyed the superficial materialism of Jill’s life with Marc without it becoming forced or overwhelming.

The reader is alerted to Marc’s unpleasant and controlling character through Jill’s naïve musings. At first, she is a little frustrating and self-absorbed, you do feel the urge to slap her but her unsophistication in the face of Marc’s ruthless dishonesty makes for an absorbing read that really zips along. Cush was also a menacing character and his scene in the kitchen with Jill was quite unnerving.

The prose excels once Jill is in Dewberry Beach; the setting is clearly realised and the reader is ably transported to a seaside town out of season, you could really feel yourself walking along the shoreline with the wind whipping your face and smell the salt spray. The characters are convincing and the small-town pace of life with its seasonal traditions is brought to colourfully and authentically to life. The coterie of female characters at the core of the community; Mrs Ivey, Brenda, Betty Grable et al., are nicely individual and, Ellie, Jill’s best friend, provides an anchor from her old life and helps drive the narrative along.

You do get a sense of Jill shedding this ‘Stepford Wife’ persona and returning to the South Jersey girl that she was before her ill-fated marriage but it could have been slightly more defined. Personally, I thought Jill should have been a shade older than twenty-six; some of her actions seemed to suggest someone more mature.

The plot is gripping in parts, although there are areas that resolve a touch too conveniently and, consequently, feel a touch rushed. Nonetheless, The Girl I Used to Be is pure reading escapism with a wonderfully realised setting and faultless editing. Well worth a look.

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