Before You Knew My Name
reviewed by Pam Guynn
Jacqueline Bublitz’s debut novel, Before You Knew My Name, is heartbreaking and thought-provoking. At 36, Ruby Jones decides to move to NYC for six months from Australia. She needs to be shaken out of her current state of aloneness and get a fresh start on life.
Alice Lee turns eighteen on the day she arrived in New York City (NYC) with $600, a few clothes, and a stolen camera. One month later, Alice is dead, but her story continues. When Ruby finds a woman’s body by the Hudson River, she and Alice are connected. While Ruby wants to forget what she saw, she can’t. Can she solve Alice’s death and give her closure?
The complex characterization is first-rate for Alice and Ruby as well as many of the secondary characters. Their hope, sadness, and loneliness are palpable. Both characters change and grow as they respond to events. I cared about them and they were easy to like.
This novel is unique with it’s narration by Alice after her death. For the majority of the book, others know her only as Jane Doe or Riverside Jane. The story goes beyond who murdered “Jane” to who was “Jane”. Readers learn from Alice about her life before her death, including her month in NYC. They also gain insight into Ruby’s desire for a change in her life.
This book has a solid premise and a mystery, but it’s much more than that. There’s a focus on the victim and the one who found her more than the murder itself. It’s about the ability for all to walk safely on streets. Taking control of your life and the effects of trauma on those who encounter it are explored, including flashbacks, paranoia, and hypervigilance. It’s about finding a murder victim and having a young life full of opportunity cut short. News coverage bias and remembering the victims is explored. Other themes include starting over, safety, freedom, hope, grief, surviving, friendship, trust issues, assault, murder, and deaths. My biggest quibble is the pacing felt slow at times. The story switches between characters frequently.
Overall, this story is gripping, thought-provoking, and emotional, with wonderful characterization and many scenes of heartache and hope. While this is fictional, violence and murder against women is an occurrence that is all too frequent in today’s world. This was a new author for me and I can’t wait to dive into another one of her stories. This incredible novel will be remembered for a long time.
Atria Books, Atria/Emily Bestler Books and Jacqueline Bublitz provided a complimentary digital ARC of this novel via NetGalley. This is my honest review. Opinions are mine alone and are not biased in any way. Publication date is currently set for November 1, 2022.