"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. This emotionally charged narrative is as memorable as it is compelling."
—Booklist (starred review)
"[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."
“Twining Olivia’s teenage past with her grown-up present, Cornwell tells a sensitive, clear-eyed, and ever so slightly supernatural story of a family shaped by mental illness.”
“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.”
"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, author of Archangel
"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 for the reader."
—Margot Livesey, author of The Flight of Gemma Hardy
"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, author of The Son
"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] handles the delicate subject of mental illness and the realities of living with a mood disorder with compassion and grace. . . . [A] thoughtful and powerful debut.”
“An engaging debut. . . . Well-paced, with enough tension to be absorbing, What I Had Before I Had You is replete with lyrical turns of phrase and spot-on details.”
—New Jersey Monthly
“If reading literary fiction truly increases one’s emotional intelligence (as a recent study suggests), this lively debut novel by Sarah Cornwell has much to contribute. . . . The novel involves deft plot twists and last-minute revelations that add to the suspense.”
—Dallas Morning News
“Sarah Cornwell’s debut novel meshes past and present, mothers and children, and magic and memory to give readers the kind of book they can be glad exists.”
News & Events
My short story 'The Benevolent Society' has been published in Alaska Quarterly Review
My short story 'Mr. Legs' will be published in Prairie Schooner
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