There’s something awfully familiar about David Cristofano‘s new novel. That’s because Cristofano has taken the story from his Edgar-nominated debut novel, The Girl She Used to Be, turned it sideways, upside down and smooshed it up a little, to recount the love story of girl in the witness protection program and her would-be mob assassin, from another POV. Where The Girl She Used to Be – an excellent read, you can see my review of it here– was from the Melody Grace McCartney’s perspective, The Exceptions is told by Jonathan Bovaro.
The story arcs overlap in time without being perfectly aligned. Melody’s story begins as she is being moved, once again, into a new life by the US Marshalls. Twenty years ago, she and her parents had witnessed a murder, stumbling upon paterfamilias Tony Bovaro as he guts aptly-named Jimmy the Rat in a restaurant kitchen. The Bovaros had found the McCartney family once, killing Melody’s parents in a grocery store parking lot. The Girl She Used to Be takes a sharp turn when Melody wakes in her dumpy hotel room with a “knife” to her throat… held by Jonathan Bovaro. He’s been watching her for years, and has a plan to keep her safe. A bad plan, but a plan.
As those who read Melody’s story know, ****SPOILER ALERT*** the end of The Girl She Used to Be had the star-crossed lovers separated, with Melody given a brand-new start, with nobody chasing her, because Jonathan has confessed to killing her. She loves him, but they can never be together.
In The Exceptions, the story has a longer arc, beginning with the murder and the reason why Jonathan’s spent most of his adult life trying to shield Melody, and ending after he has flipped on his family, been WITSECed himself, and then more-or-less abducted by an FBI agent. For what purpose, I refuse to say.
Thus does Cristofano masterfully maintain suspense despite telling the same story twice! Gimmicky? Sure. A gimmick I wish I’d thought of.
Both books stand on their own, no problem. And I had a super-fun, although time-consuming, couple of days wherein I compared the Exceptions to the Girl. Conversations between Melody and Jonathon are dizzying when you see the same words spoken, but the internal perspective presented varies. My strong recommendation is to read them in order. The twist at the end of The Exceptions will be a lot more twist-y if you’ve already read Girl.