Download What I Had Before I Had You: A Novel Audiobook

What I Had Before I Had You: A Novel Audiobook, by Sarah Cornwell Extended Sample Click for printable size audiobook cover
Author: Sarah Cornwell Narrator: Karen White Publisher: HarperCollins Format: Unabridged Audiobook Delivery: Instant Download Audio Length: Release Date: January 2014 ISBN: 9780062337535
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Written in radiant prose and with stunning psychological acuity, award-winning author Sarah Cornwell's What I Had Before I Had You is a deeply poignant story that captures the joys and sorrows of growing up and learning to let go.

Olivia Reed was fifteen when she left her hometown of Ocean Vista on the Jersey Shore. Two decades later, divorced and unstrung, she returns with her teenage daughter, Carrie, and nine-year-old son, Daniel, recently diagnosed with bipolar disorder. Distracted by thoughts of the past, Olivia fails to notice when Daniel disappears from her side. Her frantic search for him sparks memories of the summer of 1987, when she exploded out of the cocoon of her mother's fierce, smothering love and into a sudden, full-throttle adolescence, complete with dangerous new friends, first love, and a rebellion so intense that it utterly recharted the course of her life.

Olivia's mother, Myla, was a practicing psychic whose powers waxed and waned along with her mercurial moods. Myla raised Olivia to be a guarded child, and also to believe in the ever-present infant ghosts of her twin sisters, whom Myla took care of as if they were alive—diapers, baby food, an empty nursery kept like a shrine. At fifteen, Olivia saw her sisters for the first time, not as ghostly infants but as teenagers on the beach. But when Myla denied her vision, Olivia set out to learn the truth—a journey that led to shattering discoveries about herself and her family.

Sarah Cornwell seamlessly weaves together the past and the present in this riveting debut novel, as she examines the relationships between mothers and daughters, and the powerful forces of loss, family history, and magical thinking.

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Quotes & Awards

  • “An incandescent debut by turns thrilling and meditative; part coming of age novel, part exploration of the fragility and complexity of love and family. Sarah Cornwell is a writer to be celebrated and watched.”

    Philipp Meyer, New York Times bestselling author

  • “Only a few writers can genuinely capture that stormy period between childhood and adulthood, and Sarah Cornwell is one of them…The result is an exhilarating, hurtling, unstoppable ride.”

    Margot Livesey, New York Times bestselling author

  • “Sarah Cornwell has a brilliant eye for the telling detail and a wonderfully original way of embodying family history. I was captivated by her memorable characters and the perfectly paced revelations of their surprising relationships.”

    Andrea Barrett, Pulitzer Prize finalist

  • “[A] bewitching first novel…In chapters alternating between the puzzling, pressurized present and eerily predictive past, Cornwell weaves the novel’s double narrative with the deft touch of a magician and the sure hand of a confident writer to watch.”


  • “Captivating…Depth of insight, dreamy prose, and an engrossing storyline mark this wonderful debut.”

    Publishers Weekly (starred review)

  • “Cornwell’s first novel is an authentic and artful coming-of-age story that is uniquely multigenerational…With great attention to detail and a smooth flow between past and present, this emotionally charged narrative is as memorable as it is compelling.”

    Booklist (starred review)

  • “Gorgeously crafted, Cornwell’s tale shimmers and shimmies with nimble dialogue and poignantly flawed characters…Grafting magical thinking onto gimlet-eyed acceptance, Cornwell’s debut novel enchants.”

    Kirkus Reviews

  • “Cornwell’s debut novel is equal parts page-turner and dreamy meditation on the nature of mental illness…An important exploration of the deepest philosophical inquiries into the nature of existence, family, and love. I highly recommend.”

    Antonya Nelson, author of Bound

  • “Sarah Cornwell’s first novel is as unnerving and authoritative as Hilary Mantel’s Beyond Black. This is a beautifully written book, bold and wounding. Read it and you will never look at the Jersey Shore in quite the same way again.”

    James Magnuson, author of Famous Writers I Have Known

  • “Cornwell’s debut is a dreamy trip to the past with one foot planted in the present. Readers will enjoy trying to figure out the puzzle of Olivia’s past, while desperately hoping she finds her missing son. This haunting tale of a childhood distorted by trauma, myth, and devotion will stay with readers long after they’ve turned the last page.”

    RT Book Reviews (4 stars)

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About the Author

Sarah Cornwell has won a Pushcart Prize, the Gulf Coast Fiction Prize, and the Humanitas Student Drama Fellowship. Her stories have appeared in the 2013 Pushcart Prize Anthology, the Missouri Review, Mid-American Review, and Zahir, among other publications. A former James Michener Fellow at UT-Austin, she served as Writer-in-Residence at Interlochen Arts Academy and as a Mid-Atlantic Arts Foundation Creative Fellow for Pennsylvania State. She lives in Los Angeles.

About the Narrator

Karen Grey is the pen name for award-winning narrator Karen White. A stage, screen, and radio drama actor in Boston, New York, and Los Angeles in the late twentieth century, she started recording books in 1999. Now back in her home state of North Carolina, she shares a home with her family and (probably) too many pets, where she continues to narrate audiobooks as well as make up stories.