Before We Were Strangers by Renée CarlinoBefore We Were Strangers by Renée Carlino
Published August 2015
Genres: Contemporary Romance, New Adult
Format: eBook
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Check it out on Goodreads

To the Green-eyed Lovebird:

We met fifteen years ago, almost to the day, when I moved my stuff into the NYU dorm room next to yours at Senior House.

You called us fast friends. I like to think it was more.

We lived on nothing but the excitement of finding ourselves through music (you were obsessed with Jeff Buckley), photography (I couldn’t stop taking pictures of you), hanging out in Washington Square Park, and all the weird things we did to make money. I learned more about myself that year than any other.

Yet, somehow, it all fell apart. We lost touch the summer after graduation when I went to South America to work for National Geographic. When I came back, you were gone. A part of me still wonders if I pushed you too hard after the wedding…

I didn’t see you again until a month ago. It was a Wednesday. You were rocking back on your heels, balancing on that thick yellow line that runs along the subway platform, waiting for the F train. I didn’t know it was you until it was too late, and then you were gone. Again. You said my name; I saw it on your lips. I tried to will the train to stop, just so I could say hello.

After seeing you, all of the youthful feelings and memories came flooding back to me, and now I’ve spent the better part of a month wondering what your life is like. I might be totally out of my mind, but would you like to get a drink with me and catch up on the last decade and a half?


A brief and unexpected encounter on the Subway throws Matt Shore into a loop. Seeing his college sweetheart Grace Shore again brought all the memories that he could never rid himself of back tenfold. Has it already been 15 years? In a desperate attempt to get some closure on what happened all that time ago, Matt takes out a Craiglist “Missed Connections” ad in the hopes that Grace might see it. Will fate bring them back together again the same way it tore the couple apart over a decade and a half ago?

What I loved about this book:

  • All. The. Feels. The emotions are just so overwhelming.
  • The author’s writing and how her descriptions are deeply intertwined with music
  • The character’s uniqueness and kindness

What I felt needed improvement:

  • I wouldn’t change a thing

Before We Were Strangers is another book that will make it into my Best Of 2015 category and straight into my All-Time Favorites, because it is just the kind of book that gets a hold of you.

What I loved about Before We Were Strangers was that it turned out to be a book across genres – from new-adult to downright “grown-up” romance with a bit of albeit unnecessary. It deals with both the frustrations experienced by a young couple falling in love in a foreign city and to whom only the heart and soul is important (as opposed to the social status); but then it also deals with more mature life events, such as finding one’s career path, and going through the motions of love, marriage, and separation…

In a nutshell, the two main characters Matt and Grace share a wonderful college year together before Matt leaves for a 3-month internship. However, circumstances make that the two characters won’t see or speak to each other again in the next 15 years. When they finally reconnect again – by sheer luck – the weight of the emotions they felt 15 years ago comes crashing back down on them. But over reconnecting, they also find out exactly what they missed out on all that time.

“After seeing you, all of the youthful feelings and memories came flooding back to me, and now I’ve spent the better part of a month wondering what your life is like.”

I know some readers might either chalk the storyline down to something completely unrealistic, or be plain annoyed by the fact that it is based on mis- (or lack of) communication. That’s what I gathered from so many Goodreads reviews. I can even see how someone could think that the fact that the characters didn’t reconnect in 15 years was partly due to their lack of trying. But they were both young when they got “separated”, and both thought the other person had let them down without any warning. In that context, I could very well relate to Grace and Matt’s reactions, and even if some of them might come across as stupid at first glance, I probably wouldn’t have made a different decision had I been in their place. Anyway, I do not want to judge the characters – as I usually do – because this read need to be seen as a whole.

When I read Before We Were Strangers, from the first chapters on, I was amazed at how poetic this book was. And it’s not the cheesy head-in-the-clouds kind of poesy. It’s the one that you can really relate to. Renée Carlino really has a talent for putting even the most ethereal feeling into words.

“You can’t recreate the first time you promise to love someone or the first time you feel loved by another. You cannot relive the sensation of fear, admiration, self-consciousness, passion and desire all mixed into one because it never happens twice. You chase it like the first high for the rest of you life.”

Before We Were Strangers was both a wonderful and a depressing read. Especially in the beginning, it felt both lighthearted, youthful, refreshing, and angsty. Because although the chemistry between Grace and Matt is magic and powerful, I kept waiting for the shoe to drop – for the fairytale to crash, because there was always such a mysteriously sad aura around Grace. And the shoe does drop, however it’s not as if the author made you fall of a cliff.

“From the time you’re born, you have no control; you can’t choose your parents, and unless you’re suicidal, you can’t choose your death. The only thing you can do is choose the person you love, be kind to others and make your brutally short stay as pleasant as possible.”

To me, the whole theme of the story – and how it was bundled-up – was perfect. I am a firm believer that “missed connections” (the poetic term for “misunderstandings”, I guess) do exist and happen often; and that they may or may not change the course of your life drastically, while there’s only so much you can do to control what happens.

“We both cried together, surrendering to the reality that we had to accept. No one could change the past or give us back the time we had lost, and there were just no words to make everything better. We just had to accept the present for what it was.”

Now the writing was absolutely superb. I rarely read books were the writing elicits such deep emotions within me, and feels so real that you literally experience the whole story in full-blown technicolor. The transitions between past and present and Grace and Matt’s POVs flowed wonderfully and kept me entertained to the point where I couldn’t put the book down – I literally devoured it within a few hours. And even though I am almost 10 years younger than the fictional Grace and Matt, it was so very easy for me to relate to the 90’s generation, where people were still communicating via talking, hanging out and doing actual things together, taking actual non-digital pictures, and most importantly: not taking every thing for granted. It was beautiful to have Matt and Grace’s love-story set in that particular decor, and gave it even more significance.

“When you hear the city’s sound, when you breathe in her scent, you share it with all the people walking beside you on the street, in the subway, or gazing from a tall building across Central Park. You know at once that you are alive, and that life is beautiful, precious and fleeting.”

And as a reader, I was completely immersed in their world thanks to the musical references given by Renée Carlino throughout the book. I love when music and writing comes together, and Before We Were Strangers certainly shows a wonderful synergy of the two. The whole read was accompanied by music, and unfortunately, not always the cheeriest of all music – but very representative. Hallelujah by Jeff Buckley is one of the musical centerpieces of the book and definitely sets the tone for this bittersweet story.

“Poetry is just the evidence of life. If your life is burning well, poetry is just the ash.”

There’s actually a great Spotify playlist for Before We Were Strangers, created by the author herself. I only discovered this once I finished the book, but it is spot on, and features exactly the kind of music I was picturing while I read the book. And well… I am kind of glad I did not listen to it while I read it, because it would have made my reading experience even more intense – and I would have cried even fatter tears.

Because I dare you not to let this read make you all emotional. I mean, let alone the first notes from Unaccompanied Cello Suite No. 1 in G Major by J.S. Bach make me want to cry. Anyway, the whole read made me so emotional. I still have tears in my eyes writing the review. And Before We Were Strangers will also give you a hell of a book blues once you’re done with it. It’s one of those reads were you can just relate so well to the characters and just want to cry because of what happened to them, yet be rejoice because they found their happy ending even after all those years.

If you follow my reviews, you’ll know that I am a fan of tangible stories. Tangible ones. Realistic ones. Before We Were Strangers might come across as a less than realistic read. But what I can tell you is that it felt real. I felt tangible emotions when I read this book, and the feelings were just. So. Damn. Overwhelming. That alone makes it a 10-Star read. And let’s admit it: every once in a while, it’s nice to have a special book give you an escape that feels so real that for one moment, you truly believe that everything’s not lost.

So yes, Before We Were Strangers is definitely a read to remember – and to recommend. I will be sure to check out the author’s other works, hoping to find just as much raw emotions and I did with this book.

Detailed Rating
5 Stars
5 Stars
5 Stars
All the feels
5 Stars
Overall: five-stars