Monday, May 3, 2010

Book Review of The Girl She Used To Be by David Cristofano

The Girl She Used to Be
The blurb:
When Melody Grace McCartney was six years old, she and her parents witnessed a brutal act of violence -- and then were lured into the Witness Protection Program. And so Melody lost her identity, her home, her family, and ultimately her innocence. She's been May Adams, Karen Smith, and countless others. But the one person she has always longed to be is Melody Grace McCartney.

Now, twenty years later and still on the run, she's stunned when a man calls her by her real name. Jonathan Bovaro, the mafioso sent to find her, knows her, the real her. It's a thrill Melody can't resist, and she goes with him willingly, defying the feds. To the Justice Department, she's just a pawn in their war against the Bovaro family. But as dangerous as Jonathan is, he gives Melody the opportunity of a lifetime: the chance to embrace her past and present, and choose a future all her own.

The Girl She Used To Be is hard to categorize - it has suspenseful, humorous, romantic and touching moments, but the book doesn't fall under those general categories. It's a book that grabs you from the beginning. Here's how it starts:

"Name me. Gaze into my eyes, study my smile and my dimples and tell me who you see. I look like an Emma. I look like an Amy. I look like a Katherine. I look like a Katheryn. I look like your best friend's sister, your sister's best friend. Introduce me. Yell for me. Let me run away and call me back. Run your fingers through my hair and whisper my name.

Call me whatever you want; it's just a name, after all.

When I was born, my parents assembled a string of vowels and consonants so magical, so rhythmic and haunting, that the human form had yet to be married to such beauty.

When I was six, it was taken away.
And because of my ineptitude and innocent inability to keep a secret, they took it away again when I was eight.
And at nine. At eleven. Twice at thirteen."

When the book begins, Melody Grace McCartney is 26 years old, a veteran of the Federal Witness Protection Program, and teaches math at a public high school. Since she entered Witness Protection so young, its rules have shaped her life. As we read about what Melody does to create a sense of connection and family while staying safe, we sense how isolated she feels. (Spoiler alert!) She buys baby monitors to eavesdrop on the everyday sounds that her neighbors and their families make. There is a scene at a mall's Hallmark store where Melody vicariously shares in an important moments of another person's life. I'm trying not to give this away but the baby monitors and the Hallmark store ritual really got to me. I see a perfectly quiet moment at home as a treat, so Melody's desire for the ambient noise of a real family and the way that she described it really made her character come alive for me.

As the story progresses, Melody interacts with her students, the US Marshall assigned to her case, and Jonathan Bovaro. As I read more about Melody and Jonathan, I became invested in their success.

The Girl She Used To Be is an unusual treat - the characters are unusual and nuanced, the plot is complicated and unpredictable, and the writing is so well done.

ISBN-10: 0446582212 - Paperback
Publisher: Grand Central Publishing; Reprint edition (March 10, 2010), 272 pages.
Review copy provided by the publisher.

About the Author:
David Cristofano has earned degrees in government and politics, and computer science from the University of Maryland at College Park and has worked for different branches of the federal government for over a decade. His short works have been published by Like Water Burning and McSweeney's. He currently works in the Washington, D.C. area, where he lives with his wife, son, and daughter. The Girl She Used To Be is his first novel. You can contact him or learn more about David Cristofano at

Thank you to Valerie and Hatchette Book Group for this review opportunity.


  1. I cant wait to read this! This is our book club choice for May and we are potlucking at my home using food we read about in the book. I heard there are good food choices within the book.

    Thanks for a good review :)

  2. This one's been on my radar and I'm really starting to hear good things about it.

  3. Thanks for dropping by Sheila & Lisa!

    The descriptions of Italian food are particularly mouthwatering. I hope you guys like the book as much as I did.