Review: Swear On This Life by Renée Carlino

Swear On This Life
Renée Carlino
Atria Paperback: 2016
Paperback, 303 pages



Imagine opening a book and discovering that someone else has written your life story.

When a bestselling debut novel from mysterious author J. Colby becomes the literary event of the year, Emiline reads it reluctantly. As an adjunct writing instructor at UC San Diego with her own stalled literary career and a bumpy long-term relationship, Emiline isn’t thrilled to celebrate the accomplishments of a young and gifted writer.

Yet from the very first page, Emiline is entranced by the story of Emerson and Jackson, two childhood best friends who fall in love and dream of a better life beyond the long dirt road that winds through their impoverished town in rural Ohio.

That’s because the novel is patterned on Emiline’s own dark and desperate childhood, which means that “J. Colby” must be Jase: the best friend and first love she hasn’t seen in more than decade. Now, far from being flattered that he wrong the novel from her perspective, Emiline is furious that he co-opted her painful past and took some dramatic creative liberties with the ending.

The only way she can put her mind at ease is to find and confront J. Colby, but she’s not quite prepared to learn the truth behind the fiction.



Missed connections, first loves, and reconnections – Renée Carlino is a master writer when it comes to telling these tales. And I absolutely love it.

Swear On This Life is a story about coming to terms with your past and being able to look back and make the right decisions to move on. I thought that it was so interesting how Jase (or J. Colby) decided to write his novel All the Roads Between from Emi’s point of view. It gave an insight into who he was as a character and who he was to her – the idea that he knew her well enough to be able to pull off that sort of narrative. I thought that the novel within a novel was very well done and I loved All the Roads Between as much as I loved Swear On This Life.

The only issue I had with the book was Emi’s relationship with her boyfriend, Trevor. I thought that as a character, he came off as two-dimensional. As readers, we weren’t given a real chance to see why Emi dated him in the first place, much less consider staying with him. Then the whole twist near the end (no spoilers here), felt forced and gave us an excuse for why Emi would choose Jase near the end (fine, this is sort of a spoiler but clearly the two were going to end up together). But that’s the thing, we were already rooting for Emi and her first love and the final stake in Trevor’s character felt unnecessary.


There seems to be a reason why I really like Swear On This Life and Before We Were Strangers, it explores the idea of reconnecting with first loves. And while this is not something I want in reality (again…), the idea of it is something that has always fascinated me. There is something more innocent, pure, and unconditional when it comes to first loves and while I don’t really think it translates into real life; in novels, it’s uplifting to see these couple have a happy ending. But not always. For example, I have been binge-watching Dawson’s Creek and that got me thinking. For someone who was really rooting for the first loves/childhood loves in these novels to come together, I’m actually not on that side at all for this particular TV show. I’m Team Pacey all the way. Sometimes first loves are just that – the first love of our life – but not the last.


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