Friday, June 05, 2009

Fiction Review: The Girl She Used To Be

Like most people, I am completely fascinated by the Witness Protection Program. Who wouldn’t be? Families whisked away in the middle of the night, given new names, new identities, new lives. It’s all so mysterious and thrilling. So, I was intrigued when I heard about David Cristofano’s first novel, The Girl She Used To Be, about a woman who grew up in witness protection. My mom recently lent me the book, and it lived up to my expectations.

She’s been known as Karen Smith, Anne Johnson, Shelly Jones, and five other 3-syllable nondescript names, but what Melody Grace McCartney wants more than anything in the world is simply to be free to be herself. She and her parents have been in the Federal Witness Protection Program since Melody was six years old, when the three of them witnessed a horrible murder at the hands of a notorious mafia leader.

Twenty years have passed, and Melody is still on the run, unable to set down roots, retain any hint of her former life, or even get close to anyone for fear they might find out who she really is. She lives a numbingly routine life, devoid of any real connections, so desperate for intimacy that she listens to the family in the next apartment over a baby monitor. This solitary life takes its toll:

I’m getting that feeling again – a sort of wanderlust fueled by the assumption that the grass has got to be greener somewhere. Anywhere. I’ve seen a lot of grass, mind you, having moved with the frequency of an army brat and having acquired all of the inevitable angst and rebellion. It is one thing to deal with the lousy decisions in your life and suffer from the relative regret and misery, to play the hand you’ve been dealt; it is quite another to be dealt hand after hand, with some federal employee leering over your shoulder, whispering, “Fold.”

Anyway, I’m getting that feeling again.

Randall Farquar, whose name I intentionally mispronounce toward the more phonetic, will not be happy when I call, but it’s his job to talk to me, to protect me, to keep me safe and secure and toasty warm at night.

These are your tax dollars hard at work.

Melody seems stuck in this never-ending cycle, until Jonathan Bovaro comes along. For the first time in 20 years, someone calls Melody by her real name and seems to know everything about her – the real her – but Jonathan is part of the mafia family that is responsible for Melody’s lost life. The feds are sure Jonathan is using her as a pawn in their war against the Bovaro family, but Melody is drawn to him because he’s the first person she’s been able to be herself with in twenty years.

The Girl She Used to Be is full of suspense, with surprising plot twists at every turn of the page, as well as mystery and romance. The characters are fully formed, and you find yourself wanting to protect Melody but not knowing whom to trust. I devoured this exciting novel in one big gulp, during a sick day. It’s one of those books that you can’t wait to turn the next page and then find yourself sorry when it ends.


  1. Have always wondered what happened to people in witness protection programs and how they cope. This book seems to point to some of the answers!

  2. Anonymous12:41 AM

    That sounds cool!

    Another book for my list, thanks.

  3. Anonymous2:53 PM

    Thanks for the review. I guess I didn't realize that protected witnesses have to continue to change their identity over time. What a life.

    Marcia Calhoun Forecki
    Better Than Magic

  4. Marcia -

    Most people don't have to continue changing identities, but that's part of this particular woman's story - I didn't want to give away too much of the plot in my review and ruin the surprises - you'll have to read it to find out more!


  5. I read this in one day as well -- what a great read! Have you ever seen In Plain Sight? It is a tv show about the Witness Protection Program -- it is great.

  6. Jess -

    I wondered whether In Plain Sight was any good. It's usually on too late for me!! Maybe I can catch it this summer or watch the first season on DVD. Thanks for the recommendation!