If you’ve read the other four books in the After series, then you might also consider picking up Before by Anna Todd and giving this companion novel a read. Here’s why.
In my previous review of After Ever Happy, I expressed that I wish I could’ve enjoyed the lifelong happiness Hardin and Tessa found together. The fourth book was mostly the two of them apart, appearing in each other lives every now and then. And by the end, their happily ever after felt so brief and final, it left me wanting to see a little more.
I think that’s what Todd accomplishes with Before: giving us a little more. I initially thought the fifth installment would be somewhat of a prologue for Hardin, but it really isn’t. It’s written from numerous perspectives: Hardin Scott as a child, several of the girls he fooled around with—before they ever met him, Landon, Zed, Smith, Hardin’s actual father Christian Vance, and then we get his perspective on his first encounters and milestones with Tessa Young that we didn’t get to see in the first book.
Before by Anna Todd summary
Before is split into three parts. Part one is comprised solely of backstories, part two is Hardin’s POV during his first encounters with Tessa (each scene begins with a brief third-person narration), and the third part is made up of extra scenes about Zed, Smith, Landon, Hardin’s real father, and Hessa.
We begin with a third-person narrative of Hardin as a boy—his dreams and disappointments that would shape the kind of young man he would become. We’re not really learning anything new here, but we do see how deeply he was affected by the relationships (or lack thereof) he had with both father figures growing up and how that impacted his worldview of women and himself.
We then jump to a series of his ex-lovers’ perspectives:
The good girl: Natalie
First is Natalie, the church-going London girl whose life he ruined by making a bet similar to how he did with Tessa in After. Even in the earlier books, I genuinely liked and felt for Natalie. She was a good girl—a sweet daughter, sister, and friend—who harbored no ill thoughts toward Hardin or Tessa after what she went through. It takes a big person to rise above all that. That’s why I liked Natalie so much. Like Tessa, she was always too good for Hardin and his horrible friends. And Hardin knew that, carrying the guilt of what he did to her for years.
The bad girl: Molly
Then we jump to Molly, a character I thought I’d hate most in these books. Getting her backstory did cause me to reexamine my feelings toward her, but I still probably dislike her second-most. Molly experienced a gutwrenching loss during her teenage years (Spoiler: her first and only love was killed in a car accident), and that loss turned her into the cold, selfish maneater we know today. Molly’s story made me see her in a new light. But only a slightly more flattering light.
The evil one: Steph
Let’s now skip ahead to Steph who is the fourth ex-lover perspective we get. Her backstory reaffirmed everything I felt about her. She’s an evil, selfish brat who deserves to be alone. Yeah, we see glimpses into her high school years where she felt like she was living in the shadow of her “perfect” sister, but normal people don’t lash out and become what she does over a missed prom dress and sibling rivalry. It just wasn’t enough to justify anything Steph did to Tessa in After We Fell… or ever, really. Steph is bad news, and she’s the type of person you should steer clear of always.
Book review: Before by Anna Todd
The middle section of the book is all of the scenes between Tessa and Hardin that we only saw from her perspective. We learn that Hardin really did love Tessa the best way he could from early on, and it was interesting to see his motives and how he tried justifying his choices and actions. I enjoyed seeing his take on different situations. It felt like a realistic representation of the misunderstandings people often have when first getting to know someone.
I didn’t enjoy the scenes about Zed and Landon very much. To me, those characters stayed somewhat flat. They didn’t endure enough hard lessons for a big arc, and frankly, I found them both a little boring.
Moving on to Hardin’s father. I thoroughly enjoyed Vance’s chapter. We see an imperfect family man completely in love with Hardin’s mother, Trish. But his love is never reciprocated. Trish reminded me of Daisy Buchanan from The Great Gatsby. She was a woman who needed attention and security and was never capable of loving Vance how he deserved. I couldn’t blame Vance for up and leaving England. But I do think he came out better for it in the end.
Finally, Anna Todd does give us more of Hessa. After so much time apart, we see nothing has changed between them. Their love blooms stronger and brighter than ever before. After a heartbreaking miscarriage and then the birth of two children later on, they are the same. They are wild about each other, devoted, and completely happy together in the end. Through their children’s tantrums and the stresses of their careers during full-on adulthood, they manage to keep that white-hot ember of passion between them that attracted them to each other so many years ago.