If I Knew you were going to be this beautiful, I never would have let you go, by Judy Chicurel

Publisher: Tinder Press | Publication date: 4th June 2015 | Edition: Paperback (review copy)

This beautiful book only

An explanation for the unusually long title is given by our narrator during the course of the story…

Despite the gorgeous cover and the title of this book, this story is not an entirely a pretty one. But it’s most definitely an ocean of dreams in life; most of them faded, jaded or both.

This is a poignant, hard-hitting story of growing up and finding your place in a changing world. It’s relayed by 18 year old Katie, who lets us into her life and the antics of her blend of friends, with her perfect first-hand account and dialogue for the era.

It’s 1972. The Vietnam War has left a tide mark around the residents of Elephant Beach, Long Island, who appear to pass the majority of their time with drugs, booze, cigarettes and sex – first time, last time or anytime.

The young struggle to make their often misguided mark on the world, believing the grass is greener, their desires being exchanged for a teenage pregnancy and a life they did not expect. Those who are older or back from the war just want to get through the day, as life has already taken its weary toll.

Not being born in the town Katie often feels like an outsider. She watches as some of her friends choose to leave The Beach for pastures new, while some of them linger and waste their lives.

This was written so well, at times I felt a little awkward listening in on the edge of the conversation. And yet listen I did, hanging out with the others, like a gossipy ol’ lady in the bar of the crumbling Starlight Hotel. I was surprised to find myself sucked into her world and quickly forming opinions about her family, friends and even casual visitors on the periphery – the good, the bad and those recently falling pregnant.

By the time I reached the end of the book I realised I didn’t do so well to judge some of the characters so harshly, as the people I’d least expected to surprise me did exactly that.

There were plenty of memorable passages like Katie’s ongoing, confused obsession with troubled ex-Vietnam veteran, Luke, which are drawn out perfectly. But the moment that stands out by miles for me is the one where everyone’s flip-flops are lined up against the beach wall in memory of a friend, like a barrier to the rest of the world – it really will bring a lump to your throat. Yet, even these bad times are balanced with subtle wit and punchy conversations.

It’s a vividly portrayed snapshot of an era, if you can ‘dig it’ that is.

Talking of snapshots, I’ll leave you with a quote from the book where a group of friends are on their fourth attempt to capture ‘the perfect moment’ with a Polaroid camera:

“…If you look long enough, in a certain way, you can almost hear us laughing, hear the laughter floating out behind us until it grows fainter and further away, like the memory of a faded scar.”

Rating: A truly beautiful 4/5

(My thanks to the publisher for the sending a copy of #thisbeautiful book for an honest review. )

You can follow the author on Twitter: @JudyChicurel    |   Publisher: @TinderPress