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Life Before

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Seventeen years is a long time to keep secrets, so Xander Fife is very good at it: everyone believes he has a normal family. If he can just get through this summer, he'll start his real life in college with a clean slate--no risk, no drama, no fear.

Xander’s summer plans include pick-up soccer, regular hijinks with friends, an epic road trip, and—quite possibly— the company of his ideal girlfriend, the amazing Gretchen Taylor.

Instead of kicking off what had promised to be an amazing summer, however, graduation day brings terror. His family's secrets are thrust out into the open, forcing Xander to confront his greatest fear. Or run from it.

Armed with a fake ID, cash, and a knife, Xander skips town and assumes a new identity. In danger hundreds of miles from home, one thing is clear: Xander's real life is already in progress and just getting through it isn't enough.

First published June 7, 2016

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Michele Bacon

5 books47 followers

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5 stars
105 (26%)
4 stars
125 (31%)
3 stars
122 (31%)
2 stars
28 (7%)
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11 (2%)
Displaying 1 - 30 of 71 reviews
Profile Image for Karen Hattrup.
Author 2 books58 followers
May 18, 2016
When I was young, I always loved YA books that were about running away – and had this one been around back then, I’m sure I would have devoured it in a single sitting. LIFE BEFORE is a fast-paced, emotional read that tells the story of Xander Fife, who has just graduated from high school only to find himself on the run from family trauma. His voice is real, honest, and funny, even as he’s wrestling with some of the darkest memories you could imagine. His journey is a compelling one, fraught with the real-world challenges of being alone on the road and the spiritual turmoil of finding a way to live a meaningful life that acknowledges the past but embraces the present. Seeing him forge a path for himself with the help of new friends makes for a memorable, heartfelt read.
Profile Image for Raina.
1,610 reviews128 followers
November 8, 2017
"On the run from a killer" - that sounds like an action flick, right?
But this is a book about the nitty-gritty.

Instead of running around athletically like a "hero" from one of those flicks, Xander is focusing on surviving under the radar.
Where will he sleep? How will he get food? How will he communicate with his home to find out if he's safe to go back?

I'm not sure if the author intended this, but in 2017, for me, this was a book about living undocumented.
And about logistics.

How do you connect with other humans if your only interaction is needing their help or mercy?
How do you make your way in the world when you're head is full of trauma-panic-ptsd?

I felt for Xander. I could feel the layers of unshowered days piling up on his skin.

Affecting. and sad.
Profile Image for Janet McNally.
Author 7 books145 followers
May 8, 2016
This is a great book. Kids in abusive families are often forced to grow up before they should have to, but for Xander, the biggest change in his life comes in one harrowing moment. It's enough to make him give up everything, and watching that happen--reading this book--is really difficult at times. That's because his character is so well-drawn and realistic, as are the rest of the characters and the world around him. Xander has to figure out how to survive on his own, and the story of how he does that is really compelling.
Profile Image for Caleb Roehrig.
Author 17 books763 followers
April 2, 2016
With LIFE BEFORE, Michele Bacon has created a thoughtful and stirring portrait of a boy forced to grow up practically overnight. When his dark past erupts into tragedy, Xander Fife must leave behind his friends, his hometown, and everything he knows, and go on the run; flinging himself headlong into what he first views as a terrible limbo - a meager and fugitive existence eked out in fits and starts as he waits for a dangerous situation to resolve itself - he soon discovers things about life, and about himself, that he never knew before.

Xander undergoes some very painful evolution over the course of this novel. He has a believably complex relationship with his mother - whom he both loves and sometimes resents - and a realistic (if sometimes unfair) attitude towards her failings as a protector during the years when the pair of them suffered domestic abuse at the hands of Gary, Xander's father. These are heavy and complicated subjects, and Bacon does a wonderful job of not trying to water them down or candy-coat them for easier digestion. Equally impressive is the way in which she shows how a boy who has learned too much too early about self-reliance can still be completely at sea when forced to fend entirely for himself.

The friendships that Xander makes while in his self-imposed exile are developed beautifully, and each character he encounters feels whole, satisfying, and important. Based on the brief description of the novel, I think I expected the plot to be somewhat explosive, and was surprised to find that it was remarkably subtle instead - filled with small moments and quiet shifts in Xander's emotional journey that are movingly profound and life-changing. There's a lot of sadness here, but a lot of optimism as well, and I'm impressed by how well Bacon has balanced the two.
Profile Image for Grace P.
352 reviews39 followers
June 23, 2016
3.5 Stars rounded up to 4!

LIFE BEFORE is a powerful and truthful novel. It tackles abuse, death, friendship, and romance in under 300 pages. I think that at the heart of this novel is a coming of age story that will make you feel. Xander growing as a character and figuring out who he wants to be was really inspiring. This book is unforgiving in the tragedies and abuse that Xander faces, and that shocked me a bit in the beginning. The characters were very intriguing and multi-dimensional which I really appreciated. I do think we could have gotten a lot longer book that would have told us more about the characters and their backstories. I really loved the kindness of strangers in this novel and the realistic behaviors that Xander encounters.

Overall, I really enjoyed LIFE BEFORE. It was very frightening and realistic at some points, allowing you to feel really engrossed and connected with the story. I would recommend this to readers who are mature and are okay with reading about abuse. Pick this book up if you are looking for something quick and different to read!

*This review will also appear on Teenreads.com. I received this copy for review. All thoughts and opinions are my own.*
2 reviews
November 3, 2017
Life Before is a novel, written by Michele Bacon, about the crazy life of a boy named Xander Fife. During his childhood, he struggled with the emotional and physical pain of his abusive father. After many years of Xander and his mom getting beaten, the mother finally got a divorce from him. From that point on, Xander had a pretty normal life, attending high school, playing soccer, and hanging out with friends. But on the night of his graduation, things went downhill very quickly. All of sudden, Xander is all by himself in a place far away from home, and becomes a new identity to save himself and his life.

I would recommend Life Before. This book has a really intriguing climax, along with details throughout the story to let the readers visualize the book in their own minds. Michele was very good with bringing out the emotion of the characters in her publication. I love how the author wrote the book in a way where Xander’s actions are unpredictable and creates a lot of suspense.
Author 2 books67 followers
April 24, 2016
Xander Fife is on the run--not because someone was killed and the killer is now after him, but because he thinks his flight will make his friends safer. Xander's a good guy.

His getaway adventures are populated with interesting secondary characters, from fry cooks to hippies to old women. (The first time he sees a naked woman will have you in stitches.)

But Xander can't hide forever, because a killer is after him--a very, very clever killer. When the ultimate showdown occurs, Xander proves again that he can make his own choices and break free of his legacy of violence.

By turns tense and poignant, LIFE BEFORE will speak to readers with secrets, and those who wonder what it's like to have one.
Profile Image for Adriana Mather.
Author 6 books2,368 followers
May 6, 2016
This book has it all; adventure, suspense, drama, and a great deal of heart. In this modern coming of age story, 17-year-old Alexander (Zander) Fife is intent on graduating high school and going off to college so that his real life can finally "begin." Zander's violent, abusive father has his own plans, though. Zander finds himself on the run and on his own for the first time.

Bacon does any amazing job navigating the emotional turmoil experienced by children who grow up in violent homes. Zander's guilt, embarrassment, and fear are palpable as are his hopes for a better life. You will find yourself pulling for Zander and all of the other children and teens with similar stories. Just so well done!!
Profile Image for Taylor.
342 reviews6 followers
May 3, 2021
This one wasn't for me. It's been staring me in the face for years and after reading a countless number of five star reviews, I was actually excited to start this - but it fell so flat. So Xander's mom gets murdered by his father, he runs away, ..... & then that's it. His life in Burlington is just repetitive and I got to read for ~70 pages about his days where nothing happens and we are wondering about the same 3-4 questions of shelter, food, job, Gary. It was just bland for me.. I wasn't a fan.

Shop Your Shelves 2021 Challenge*
Profile Image for Eva.
15 reviews4 followers
May 12, 2017
I felt that a theme in this book was that it's never too late to discover new things about yourself. Xander is seventeen, just graduated from high school. He is just ready to escape his dad and the truth about his life. But then everything goes downhill, and Xander actually does run away. Running from the law( not really in an illegal way), his friends, his home, and most importantly his father he finds refuge in Burlington. But Xander has yet to realize that all at the same time he is running from tragedy and himself. Armed with a fake ID he assumes a new identity. But during his stay he learns a bit more about life. A few new friends help him, and hearing their stories helps him realize that maybe he should face his fears. And that a false identity doesn't mean that the real you isn't there, it just means maybe part of you that was lost has found its way back.
Profile Image for Brooke.
336 reviews4 followers
September 10, 2016
I really loved this book and found myself picking it up at stop lights - in my dream world I would have cozied up on the couch and read this in one sitting. As it was, I still finished it in less than 24 hours. The book immerses the reader in the nuanced and complicated experiences of a teenager who grew up in an abusive home and undergoes an extreme trauma. I was concerned the book would be too dark and difficult for me, but instead it touched me deeply. Xander is so real in his struggles to figure out who he is and what life is and how to move forward. Michelle Bacon has a knack for writing lovable three-dimensional young adult characters - in a way that reminds me of Rainbow Rowell. I recommend this book to anyone who enjoys well-written, character-driven young adult novels. So good.
Profile Image for Monica Tesler.
Author 5 books88 followers
April 3, 2016
I was fortunate to read an ARC of Life Before. I zipped through this book. Xander's voice drew me in, and the author included just enough story about his "life before" that I was very invested in what happened when his world was turned upside down (no spoilers!). I loved his close network of friends both in his home in Ohio and his temporary home in Burlington. In particular, I thought Curt and Kat were great characters. This was a quick, suspenseful read with a hero worth rooting for!
Profile Image for Casey Lyall.
Author 9 books126 followers
July 2, 2017
Tense and emotional with characters that draw you in. Great read.
Profile Image for Brittney.
105 reviews
March 5, 2017
3.5 Stars. First 10% was boring as well as the last 10% but everything in between was heartbreaking and interesting and some parts made my heart race. I probably won't ever reread this, but I'm glad I read it.
Profile Image for blackplume.
201 reviews31 followers
July 15, 2016
Full review posted on my blog, Blackplume

Life Before tells an emotional and realistic story of Xander’s Fife – a teenage boy who has a violent and abusive father, Garry. Though Xander and his mother are not living anymore with Garry, they still both suffer from his mistreatment, which later resulted to his mother’s death, and him on the run, hiding and on his own for the first time in his life. How long can Xander outrun his father? Will Xander survive on his own with only a few cash, fake ID and a knife?

For a debut novel, Life Before is surprisingly good read. It has enough drama and realism to hook readers from start to end. Xander’s story despite painful and emotionally draining is thought provoking and something that need to be told.

Xander as the main character feels like real teenager – someone we probably know in real life. His life and situation is something that anyone may go through, not just the trying to grow up in matter of days but also the abusive part of his life. We may not be on the run like Xander but we can easily find our selves trap in hard situations where we don’t have much choice but try our best to fight and try survive life.

Continue reading here
Profile Image for Janet.
Author 10 books88 followers
June 9, 2016
Wow. This book. It was hard to read because of the subject matter, but I couldn't put it down.

When Xander dares to warn his dad's new fiance about the hidden truth of his history of abuse, his dad strikes swift and hard, and suddenly Xander's mom is dead, and he's on the run from a murderer.

I was horrified at the monster that was Xander's dad, and horrified that it's so easy to hide something so horrific as the abuse he inflicted on his wife and son. It can be really hard to see things we don't want to see, and so easy to convince ourselves that everything is fine when it isn't.

But despite the horror (I really like that word today, apparently) he lives through, this book is far from hopeless. Sometimes the hardest things we face give us the most growth as a person and appreciation for all the good there is in the world.

I received an ARC of this book in exchange for an honest review.
Profile Image for Kathleen Glasgow.
Author 14 books6,886 followers
May 20, 2016
An observant, emotional, and heartbreaking story of a boy trying to rise from the ashes of his past, only to be forced back into the life he doesn't want. Bacon is honest when describing the pain of child abuse and the terror and survival skills needed to survive on the street. Xander is a compelling, beautifully drawn character and teens will devour this sometimes scary, but always deeply felt story about confronting your past and surviving the future.
Profile Image for Stephanie Strohm.
Author 20 books365 followers
July 5, 2016
Written by one of my Sky Pony sisters! Couldn't put it down - finished in a day! Made me miss Burlington <3
Profile Image for Lozz.
682 reviews12 followers
February 19, 2022
Xander Fife Discovers That, Out Of Tragedy, He Discovers What Its Like To Live

*** May contain Some Spoilers ***

The first couple of chapters in this book are spent introducing us to seventeen year old, Xander Fife’s average life as a High Schooler, just about to Graduate.

Well, almost average life, because Xander has been hiding a shameful secret regarding his home life.

So as we meet his friends Tucker, Jill, and the girl that makes his heart race, Gretchen Taylor, we find Xander struggling with normal High School problems.

The most pressing at this point in time: he was voted to make the Graduation Speech on behalf of the student body.

Public speaking is something he fears, so, besides the beautiful Gretchen, this is something that is at the forefront of his mind at present.


The 24 hours before.

The day when everything he takes for granted in his life.
His mother, his home, his friends are taken from him in a calluses, cowardly attack perpetrated by none other than his own father, Gary.

This incident is the catalyst for Xander fleeing the quiet town of Laurel Woods, Ohio, to go on the run.

With a few belongs, and $300 he ends up in a college town Burlington.

A town where he is forced to step out if his shelter social circles for the first time, and deal with new friends, experiences, make connections

Confronting his pain and grief, discover who Xander Fife really IS and where he’s heading.

All while looking over his shoulder, never sure when his father, the murder, will resurface to seek his revenge.


He’s caring, thoughtful, inquisitive, and his self deprecating humour is the BEST!

The way he views the world around him in refreshing.

Like when he has to skip town, leaving the girl of his dreams, he recalls their first kiss..

“People say we’ll always have Paris, and, for sure, Gretchen and I will always have our mini-forest. That moment is mine, forever.”

And when he is sitting in New York McDonalds, frightened, paranoid, and on the run, he takes a moment to contemplate….

“I would rather die in Times Square than in McDonald’s.”

Once in Burlington, he is confronted with homelessness for the first time ever.

Life on the streets when your on the run from a murder is not fun.

However, it leads him to make new friends in

Bingham: the hippy guitar player, from the youth hostel.

Curt: who offered him a job, and a couch.

Kat: the geriatric care giver, stunningly exotic beautiful, and smart

Leading to an ending of self discovery for Xander, where he is able to finally LIVE again after heartbreaking tragedy.

Finally envisioning a future

“For maybe the first time in my life, I belong to myself. And I am just fine. And interesting. And good.”

Yes he is good.
He the best. …Love You Xander

Profile Image for Brittany.
Author 9 books62 followers
October 22, 2017
This was a very interesting story that held my attention because it was something I could relate to. Xander and his mother live on their own since his abusive father was given a restraining order a few years ago. Xander's life with his mother has gotten better ever since. Only his best friend Jill knows all of the terrible things Xander's father has done. In a few days time everything falls apart again. Xander's father murder's his mother and Xander's world is shattered. The loss is a huge weight on him because he and his mother had a great relationship and Xander feels like he did nothing to protect her. He begins to distance himself from everyone he loves until he finally decides to just leave everything and everyone behind until his father is found. He heads to NY to protect the people he loves. He was staying with Jill and her family, but his father threatened them and he doesn't want them to be taken away too. While in NY Xander meets a few people who help him stay on his feet until he can go back home again. People who will impact his life more than he knows. I really enjoyed this book and I loved the character's. Each character was unique even when they seemed like they would be boring in real life I just enjoyed their personalities. The author did a great job of describing the character's without going overboard. I felt like the resolution was very dry though. Everything was resolved in one chapter which was like five pages and I know the author tried to make the scene a bit dramatic. Which it was and not overly so, but I wanted more. At the same time though I knew that walking away was probably a better choice for Xander instead of demanding answers he'd never really get. Xander did get a better ending than I had expected which was great. This was an easy and simple read yet it had great subject matter that left me on edge at times. Thank you to Goodreads/author for this book for review.
908 reviews
June 3, 2019
Lori Spyker is heading into an unremarkable day, taking her kids to school, when she is stopped by the Police, who deliver the news that her brother, Scott Green, has been inured and is in hospital after a hit and run.

Trouble is Lori and Scott haven't been in touch with each other in years, yet according to the Police she's his only contact. What should she do, take responsibility. If she does that she will have to share a secret with her family, a secret she's kept hidden for so long.

When was a teenager, twenty years back, when they were both teenagers, Scott and Lori's lives were torn to shreds. Now she has to confront those memories and try and unravel Scott's life in the present, to face up to the events that drove them so far apart.

This is a story that' steeped in passion, guilt and sad memories, but somehow it seems to rise above the angst and moves forward as a gripping story of what was an ordinary family torn apart by a terrible situation. Michele Bacon captures the compassion of a family forced to address its past and bring resolution in the present.
Profile Image for Tegan.
358 reviews
August 7, 2018
This book was definitely WAY more YA than I've read in a veryyyyy long time. As a result, I found it a bit dull and over-simplified, and lacking plot and character development. I really liked Xander, though. I felt deeply sorry for him and what he had been through, and his grief was so tangible that it really emanated off the pages. I was really rooting for him, and I thought Bacon wrote him very well. However, I found the other characters intensely 1-dimensional. Perhaps if I were reading it as a teenager I would've empathized a lot more with them, but I'm not sure... they were so trope-y! Jillian is girl-next-door daughter-of-policeman best-friend combo, Gretchen is unattainable-crush-suddenly-attainable, etc. What on earth was the point of Kat? She was a super pointless character. The climax was so sudden and over so quickly, and then the book ended. Maybe I'm just too old for books like this?
1 review
March 6, 2022
A thriller, love story, and coming of age anthem

All rolled into an unassuming title cover, this novel may trigger those having family histories containing domestic violence, but the story scenes, characters, and their interactions ring solidly-true. And I believe the major themes presented within the work are essential, true, and worth sharing again and again with the important people you choose to include as part of the shared life moments that we build and share with one another for as long as we may.

The domestic violence and aftermath is sensitively portrayed, non-gratuitous, and is absolutely necessary to carry the characters, thematic elements, and story line. And I recommend this novel even to those having endured significant childhood trauma CPTSD, in my case. I wish I'd had this title to read decades ago.
Profile Image for Susan Bazzett-Griffith.
1,784 reviews48 followers
April 5, 2022
Finished this one on my Kindle a while ago and forgot to review it- decent story about a teenager who skips town after his high school graduation to hide from his fugitive father who spent years abusing him and his mom and then murdered his mother in a fit of rage. The story was interesting, but the characters lacked realism, and the narrator, Xander, seemed way too un-traumatized throughout the course of his time on the run, and not in a survivalist context, considering his life circumstances. The ideas in this book were good, the story was interesting, but there was something lacking in the execution of the book that made it fall flat, as though it were originally written as a script versus a novel and maybe required acting to bring the characters to some kind of life. 3 stars, but barely.
Profile Image for John Clark.
2,343 reviews36 followers
July 13, 2019
Trauma can do many things, but for Xander, it's suddenly put his life and future on hold. Even though his mother has a restraining order in place, it doesn't stop his abusive and sociopathic father from not only ruining Xander's high school graduation, but forcing him to abandon friends and the girl he just started dating, in order to hide from Dad. With the reluctant help of his best friend, he fakes a getaway to one location, while heading to another. Broke, filthy and freezing, Xander finds new friends and a bit of hope while waiting for the law to capture his father. Read the book to find out how that all shakes out. It's dark, a bit violent, but an accurate portrayal of just how insane and twisted life for victims in abusive families can be.
Profile Image for Saphirablue.
946 reviews77 followers
April 26, 2020
I couldn't put this down. I've read this in two sittings today and I don't regret a single minute spent with it.

I really like Xander any my heart has been hurting while reading what he went through in the past and is going through. I got his desperation, his guilt, his paranoia, everything.

I love his friends - his old ones and the ones he met.

The story is not an easy one to read - him having lived through the abuse his father inflicted on his Mother and him and everything that happened in this book. I'm just glad that he got a, well, Happy End is not the right description, but that he is able to move on and have the life he hopes for.
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Profile Image for Erika.
166 reviews1 follower
August 3, 2019
I found myself struggling to finish reading this book.

I found myself picking up the book because the premise of it and the beginning of it had me perplexed of how the story was going to unfold.

It felt uncomfortable, like in an okay way mostly, but something in me did not feel comfortable with the uncomfort.

I felt myself wanting different for the book, knowing how it could be true, but like it went too far and the pulled back too much for me.
637 reviews1 follower
October 23, 2019
This book made me cry. Our hero hides and hears his dad murder his mom. After a couple of weeks of being guarded by cops, he decides to take off and hide out in a place he has never been before: Vermont. Xander experiences homelessness, boredom, fear and loneliness, but a good reuben makes things better.
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