If I Knew You Were Going to Be This Beautiful I Never Would Have Let You Go

If51JANsAgHaL._SX332_BO1,204,203,200_Author: Judy Chicurel

Publisher: Putnam

Rating: 4 stars

Buy Links: Amazon

Type: Novel

Provided by Publisher


Blurb: It is the summer of 1972, and Katie has just turned eighteen. Katie and her town, Elephant Beach, are both on the verge: Katie of adulthood, and Elephant Beach of gentrification. But not yet: Elephant Beach is still gritty, working-class, close-knit. And Katie spends her time smoking and drinking with her friends, dreaming about a boy just back from Vietnam who’s still fighting a battle Katie can’t understand. 

In this poignant, evocative debut collection, Judy Chicurel creates a haunting, vivid world, where conflicts between mothers and daughters, men and women, soldiers and civilians and haves and have-nots reverberate to our own time. She captures not only a time and place, but the universal experience of being poised between the past and the future. At once heartbreaking, mesmerizing, and nostalgic, Chicurel shows us that no matter how beautiful some dreams are, there comes a time when we must let them go.


Review: In this sad love song to a lost time, the author writes about her childhood and growing up on Elephant Beach in the early ’70s. Poised in the divide between childhood and the freedom of college, the summer looms long and endless to Katie and her friends as they skitter close to the edge with druggie friends and soldiers just back from Vietnam. When you don’t know where you’re going, it’s easy to cling to what’s familiar. But as Katie finds, the world you thought was solid is just a mirage. As her friend Liz says, she believed in the myth while everyone else knew it wasn’t true.

It’s Katie’s senior year, and as everyone gets ready to spend the summer together at the beach, it feels like their world is never going to end. Endless parties and hanging out… But soon the threads start unraveling. First Maggie and Matty move with their baby. Then someone dies. As the world she thought was so solid and familiar starts changing before her eyes, Katie tries clinging on even harder to her adolescent dreams of getting together with Vietnam vet Luke–she’s had a crush on him since grade school. But Luke’s not playing into her fantasy. He just continues to withdraw from everyone, remaining more and more an enigma. She was saving her virginity for him, but it seems he’s never going to take it.

Along with her social world slowly fading away, so is the actual town of Elephant Beach. As the world economy turns, so does the local one. As each place shuts down and fewer and fewer jobs are available, people are leaving the area in droves. Everywhere she goes, there are always abandoned buildings and closed and shuttered businesses; just further signs of a past that’s destined to remain there. And drugs are everywhere, with people overdosing or dealing and looking unhealthy.

And more than anything else, Katie is looking for a place to fit in and belong. She was adopted, and it colors her world, making her very vulnerable; she’s so concerned about being abandoned, getting sent back. For Katie, finding a place to belong is the ultimate comfort–which is why she was drawn to the Trunk and why she tries so desperately to fit in there. She needs the validation of belonging somewhere–so it’s doubly devastating when it’s all taken away by time and tide.

The writing of this book is gorgeous, beautifully descriptive and so emotive that you feel like you’re in the Starlight Hotel, on Comanche street, or at the beach with Katie and her friends. But the stories are bittersweet and sad, since she’s writing about a time she has lost, a time in her memory that’s colored with regret and sorrow. I think we all can relate to this time of waiting for something–whether it was college, a job, or getting married–where you’re in limbo, lost in the changing times, taking anchor in something you want to believe could be permanent but you know just can’t. Building your dreams on shifting sands…

Thanks for the read!



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