Past Perfect Life: Realistic YA Contemporary With a Focus on Family Relationships

3.5/5 Stars

Author: Elizabeth Eulberg

Publisher: Bloomsbury YA

Edition: e-ARC, 344 Digital Pages

Hardcover Publication Date: July 09, 2019

A Spine that Shines? Partially

*This review is based on the e-ARC edition provided by the publisher via NetGalley. All quotes used in this review come from the uncorrected proof. These are my honest opinions. Thank you.*

I try not to think about anything. The past is too painful, the present too confusing, and the future too scary.

Ally, Past Perfect Life

Initial Thoughts

Happy Saturday! I hope everyone is having a wonderful weekend! I finished reading Past Perfect Life today. At first I was kind of torn between whether to rate it 3.5 or 4 stars, but ultimately went with 3.5. Since my rating scales may be slightly different from those of other reviewers, let me clarify that 3.5 is a middle-range rating for me. It means that I liked the book, but some factor kept me from rating it higher. In this case, part of the reason is I didn’t feel super strong emotions about the book.

I requested this book because I really enjoyed two of the author’s previous books: Prom & Prejudice and Better off Friends. And there is still much to appreciate here in Past Perfect Life as well.

  • The premise is intriguing. A girl named Ally has been living a quiet life in a small Wisconsin town. Then one day she finds out that her entire life has been a lie, and she is the victim of a crime (even though she doesn’t feel like a victim).
  • The author captures the voice of a teenage girl very well. I’m sure many students would find Ally’s worries about college applications and scholarship essays quite relatable.
  • Eulberg also captures the complexity of the different relationships very well. In fact, it is difficult to choose a “side” in all of this because the author skillfully evokes a sense of compassion from the readers, and all the characters have their own reasons to believe that their particular point of view is correct.
  • There are some cute, funny moments, and I really liked Neil, Ally’s crush. (More on him later.)
  • Ally has a dog named Baxter! Adorable!
  • Ally has such a supportive group of people in Wisconsin, and it is touching to see how much they care about her even though they are not related by blood.

‘And, Ally, I’ve waited this long. I can wait a little longer. You’re worth it.’

Neil, Past Perfect Life


Here is a brief overview of some of the characters:

  • Ally is living a quiet life until everything is turned upside-down. She is a good student who never gets in trouble. She is quiet and has very close relationship with her dad. She also has a massive crush on Neil, a boy at school.
  • Marian is Ally’s best friend. The friendship relationship between them is written very well, and I think they have a good connection. Marian’s entire family seems to care about Ally very much.
  • Neil is just so sweet! He is one of Marian’s many cousins. When Ally has to leave, he tells her that he is willing to wait for her because she is “worth it.” I actually felt as if there wasn’t enough of him in the book. I really liked the scenes between him and Ally. They make a cute couple. But I was left with the feeling that we don’t actually get to know that much about him in particular.

‘Just remember during a storm, Ally Bean, that light will always follow,’ he used to say.

Ally’s Dad, Past Perfect Life

Final Thoughts

So what prevented me from fully enjoying this book? Partly, I didn’t feel super strongly about it by the end.

  • For one thing, I was hoping there would be more mystery/suspense. But the story is actually less about the crime and more about what happens to Ally after she finds out the big revelation.
  • It also takes a while for the story to fully pick up. (For me personally, it took about 80 pages.)
  • The plot lags a little bit in the middle, and Ally does spend a while wallowing in her misery, which can be depressing to read about.
  • Ally’s mother figure comes across as really controlling in some moments. While I understand that the mother has been through a rough patch, it is quite frustrating that she doesn’t want to listen to how Ally feels about her new life. And her mother’s treatment of her really seems to affect Ally’s emotional health, almost sending her into a depression of sorts.

In the end, I do think it is good that Ally is able to finally find her voice and make herself heard. And I would still recommend this book to readers who enjoy realistic fiction with a focus on family relationships! That is what the book is mainly about. I’m also willing to give the author’s other books a chance, and I would certainly recommend Prom & Prejudice if you’re unsure of where to begin with Elizabeth Eulberg’s books. (I adore Jane Austen retellings!) Happy reading πŸ™‚

*Content Warnings: Some swearing (including a few uses of the s-word and f-word), thoughts/behavior that can come across as depressing*

Spines that Shine

3 thoughts on “Past Perfect Life: Realistic YA Contemporary With a Focus on Family Relationships”

  1. I agree that the premise sounds fascinating! Although I can perfectly understand being frustrated if there was less mystery and suspense than you expected. I think that would probably bother me too. I might check out Prom & Prejudice sometime though, like you suggested πŸ˜€

    Liked by 1 person

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