“The Girl Before” by J.P. Delaney

We are the second owners of our house. The house isn’t quite 20 years old, so it’s a relatively young home in a town filled with beautiful old houses. It’s nice enough, in a nice enough neighborhood, and I’m lucky to have a husband who wants to make this cookie-cutter home something different.

But, as the second owners of this one house, I often find myself thinking about the people who lived her before us. I know a little about them: she is (or was) a teacher, he does (or did) something financial. They moved a little closer to Columbus. I think they were pregnant with their second child, or maybe their first. They had an old dog that had accidents.

But there are other times that I wonder about the minutiae of their day-to-day lives. I’ve always made up stories about what goes on behind the walls of houses I pass, but imagining what happened in our house is much more intimate. And I think it’s easier in this house, a ‘younger’ house,rather than an older house with a multitude of previous owners. Our walls hold one relatively short story. One family filling my head with possibilities.

And that need to wonder and know is what drives J.P. Delaney’s The Girl Before.

When prospective renters learn the architecturally stunning One Folgate Place is available for rent at an affordable price, they are intrigued. But the rules and application process are daunting, scaring most away.

No rugs or carpets. No plants. No decorations. No books. No curtains. No wastebaskets. No knickknacks. No pets. Nothing left on the floor at any time.

No personal effects of any kind.

And then a lengthy application that weeds out most, with the first question asking prospects to make a list of every possession they consider essential to their lives. And, once the application is accepted, the applicant must meet the architect, who has the final say on who is and isn’t allowed to live in the home.

Switching between narrators, The Girl Before is the story of Emma and Jane.

Emma decides to move into One Folgate place after a traumatic burglary leaves her feeling vulnerable and scared. The minimalist style of the house and the technological ‘smarts’ of the house, including the security system, make her feel safer and less a slave to her abode.

Jane moves in after a personal tragedy has pushed her to need a fresh start. She’s instantly drawn to the austere presence of the home, as well as its creator.  After moving in, Jane learns about the previous tenant and her untimely death. The two women look alike and are about the same age, causing Jane to wonder about her and her decisions. But, as she attempts to learn more about the woman, she finds herself making the same unwise decisions with the same people.

And Jane is faced with the same terror as the girl before.

The Girl Before left me reeling. Who is the stalker? It would almost seem evident, but that would be too perfect. Or would it? The two women are similar until they’re nothing alike. The villain is obvious, until the answer is more opaque, and then as clear as mud.

The only real problem I had with it is pacing, I guess. It builds and builds and builds well, teasing readers as to a dramatic conclusion. And then it gets to the climax, the book is pretty much done. Very much a movie set-up; it’s no wonder that the move rights for The Girl Before were swooped up, and a film directed by Ron Howard is in the works.

It’s a book made to be a big screen thriller.

Delaney’s book is a quick read, a page turner with short, digestible chapters. With it’s easy readability, The Girl Before is the ideal book for Labor day weekend, or for a rainy day, or even a beach day.

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