Before by Anna Todd | Rating: ★★★★★
As the girl grew up, she quickly caught on to the game and became a master player.
In all honesty, due to my lukewarm feelings towards the After series but grudging desire to finish reading all the novels, I wasn’t sure what to expect from Before. Retellings are tricky to navigate and I’ve never seen the point to hearing both sides to a love story. I fully expect to hate it or at least dislike it in the way that I did with E.L. James’ Grey. I picked it up and thought, okay, I’m going to hate it or I’m going to, hopefully, understand things better,
Hardin Scott was never a character I particularly liked, never quite agreeing with his actions through the series original run, and although I understood his actions, I didn’t condone or excuse them. I still don’t, if you were wondering, but I found myself surprised by this release. Again, I was skeptical that it was just going to be a dumb re-imagining, the same story hashed out differently and done solely for money.
Before, however, is an entirely different thing. It has the retelling aspect to it, don’t mistake me. But there was so much more to it than just a standard nod to the original run, from different eyes.
It expands on Hessa and their unfortunate relationship, true, but it does so much more than what I'd thought it would.
I wasn’t at all expecting to appreciate it half as much as I did, but it was so much more than just another retelling. Many would argue that by taking this route, Anna Todd and her publisher were just attempting to bank on the series massive popularity–it may be true, but Before solidified different aspects of After in a way that original series never could.
It was far more than what it’s labeled as and in truth, I appreciate it far more than I did any other novel in the series. Because we get to see more than just Hardin’s take on his relationship with Tessa, we see into the lives of other characters who were in the background of it all and then we see what happens after the final book.
This isn’t to say that it isn’t messy still: After is and always will be an exceptionally problematic love story that you shouldn’t aspire to recreate. But with the release of Before, readers can expect to learn the depth of more than just Hardin Scott and his past and how he came to feel for our beloved Tessa Young.
We’ve got a glimpse of his mind during the start of their love story, this is true, but we also get a peek at Molly and Steph amongst others. I find that learning more about Molly was far more pleasing than any of the other bits of Before and I would kill for a spin-off based on her. Anna Todd, do you hear me? I am begging you for a spin-off or something. I’m desperate!
Hardin and Molly are incredibly alike in the way they cope with what life has made them and I appreciated seeing the parallels between the two. We already knew that Molly was a flawed character but her short narration shows us a softer, more vulnerable and hurt side to her than we could ever have imagined and I loved it. That’s what makes me want to see more of her–we see her as a real person and not just as the character’s attitude from the original series.
That being said, we see Steph before she comes to college and there are nods to how insufferable she was even then. There’s no doubt in my mind that while Molly and Hardin and Zed are redeemable, Steph just isn’t. And I appreciate that because Anna doesn’t sugarcoat who she is or how she acts and even though I grew to loath her, I appreciate seeing how she thinks.
Before was a pleasant experience and if you hated the series, you’re not going to like it. I’m probably just a rarity in my appreciation of this installment because I just wasn’t that into the series beyond “it’s a train wreck I can’t look away from” and that’s that. But this one, this collection, shows us more depth and a sprinkle of more potential from Anna Todd.
I loved it! And believe me, I'm just as surprised as you guys are.