The subject matter can make this an uncomfortable read but it’s a real page-turner!
At the age of seventeen, Layla Flynn made a mistake; a mistake so big it caused her family to uproot their lives from the small quite beach town they had called home. Twenty years later she risks losing her perfect suburban life when she receives a message from the last person she ever expected to hear from.
At seventeen Layla was navigating the insecurities and doubts that come with being a teenager in their final year of high school. It felt like things might actually be changing for the better when the crush on her twenty-eight-year-old boss, Scott, turned into a romantic relationship. It was not long before the relationship turned volatile and began having a negative effect on every aspect of her life.
In present day, Layla is thirty-seven and living the life she never thought she’d be worthy of. With a husband who loves her and two beautiful children, there’s nothing she would change. Everything begins to fall apart when she receives a message from the past: I know what you did, causing her to question herself and the relationships in her life. Will going back to the town she fled all those years ago finally set her free or take away everything she loves?
The Girl She Was switches between present day and the events leading up to Layla’s departure twenty years ago, slowly revealing what caused her to leave. Holding back a secret often feels like a cheap trick to keep the reader engaged and make up for a dull story. This story didn’t need a pending secret to be a page-turner. It was easy to empathise with Layla and feel engaged with the story. Even though half the book is set in present day and the reader knows how her story ends, it is still easy to become invested in finding out what happened in the past.
The relationship between Scott and Layla can be a difficult read at times. Freeborn has written a realistic portrayal of the grooming and controlling nature one would expect from a relationship involving a teenager and much older person. It was often uncomfortable watching it unfold and thinking about all the girls who have lived it.
One of the best things about this book is the way Rebecca points out and labels the mental health issues Layla is experiencing. Through her characters she demonstrates the negative behaviours and then has Layla eventually reach the conclusion that maybe it’s not okay to be treated that way. There is strong character development and a respectful understanding of mental health and the impact of childhood events on who we become as adults. There are a lot of positive lessons to take away from the story.
Reviewed by Jessica Incoll
Distributed by: Pantera Press
Released: March 2020