8 reviews

The Girl She Used to Be
by David Cristofano

Published: 2009-03-19
Hardcover : 256 pages
12 members reading this now
9 clubs reading this now
4 members have read this book
Recommended to book clubs by 8 of 8 members
When Melody Grace McCartney was six years old, she and her parents witnessed an act of violence so brutal that it changed their lives forever. The federal government lured them into the Witness Protection Program with the promise of safety, and they went gratefully. But the program took Melody's ...
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(When Melody Grace McCartney was six years old, she and her parents witnessed an act of violence so brutal that it changed their lives forever. The federal government lured them into the Witness Protection Program with the promise of safety, and they went gratefully. But the program took Melody's name, her home, her innocence, and, ultimately, her family. She's been May Adams, Karen Smith, Anne Johnson, and countless others--everyone but the one person she longs to be: herself. So when the feds spirit her off to begin yet another new life in another town, she's stunned when a man confronts her and calls her by her real name. Jonathan Bovaro, the mafioso sent to hunt her down, knows her, the real her, and it's a dangerous thrill that Melody can't resist. He's insistent that she's just a pawn in the government's war against the Bovaro family. But can she trust her life and her identity to this vicious stranger whose acts of violence are legendary?

Editorial Review

No editorial review at this time.


Name me. Gaze into my eyes, study my smile and my dimples and tell me who you see. I look like an Emma. I look like an Amy. I look like a Katherine. I look like a Kathryn. I look like your best friend's sister, your sister's best friend. Introduce me. Yell for me. Let me run away and call me back. Run your fingers through my hair and whisper my name. ... view entire excerpt...

Discussion Questions

(1) From the first sentence of the story, the narrator asks you to take part in the action. Why do you suppose David Cristofano decided to tell this story in the first person from the point of view of a woman? Who would have more at stake in witness protection, a man, woman, or child?

(2) Early in the novel, Melody appears conflicted in having feelings for both Sean and Jonathan. What is driving her need for affection? When does she realize she has made a decision? What solidifies this decision?

(3) At various points in the novel, the reader is given a glimpse into the previous six identities Melody has had. Which identity acts as a turning point? What event occurred that changed the trajectory of her life?

(4) The roles of good and evil are repeatedly swapped in Melody's life. Do both sides-the Feds and the Mafia-possess both good and evil, or are they really polar opposites of one another? How does Melody influence your view of each side?

(5) Though romantically inexperienced, Melody longs to be noticed by both Sean and Jonathan, trying different ways to capture their eyes. In what ways has she felt invisible to men her whole life? How has she overcompensated?

(6) Due to her constant relocation, lack of parental guidance and inability to form lasting relationships, Melody has the body of a woman but the emotional and experiential psyche of a girl. How is this dangerous? What additional problems does this pose for her, given the life she must lead? How does it influence her interaction with all of the men in her life?

(7) Melody's initial interplay with every authority figure-Farquar, Sean, Donovan, Sanchez-is semi-hostile. What makes Melody react this way? How does Jonathan's influence have her responding differently by the time she meets his family?

(8) Melody and Sean share a few conversations that expose the failings of WITSEC for both the protectors and the protected. From each of their points of view, how is the system not working? How does it work as intended? How is WITSEC more or less vital to the Justice Department today?

(9) Jonathan tries to distinguish himself from his Mafia ties in several ways. How has he successfully achieved this? In what ways is he a typical Mafioso?

(10) Melody is scarred by the explicit violence she witnesses at age six. Repeatedly, she attempts to rid Jonathan of his reactionary viciousness to seemingly topical problems. Though later in the story, she finds security in his violent behavior. What changes her mind? Would you react the same way? Why or why not?

(11) Throughout the entire novel, the importance of identity is explored. How is the life Melody has led different from that of a foster child? Of a prisoner? Of an individual living under communist rule? How are they the same?

(12) How do the tangible things in Melody's story-the food, clothes, cars, hotels-reflect her happiness, security and satisfaction? Are these things metaphorical or incidental? Would her story be different if things were reversed? Why or why not?

(13) Being in WITSEC for twenty years has had a negative impact on Melody. In what ways has it made her stronger?

(14) What is the significance of the chapter titles? How do they differ? What is the special significance of the final chapter's title?

Suggested by Members

How much faith do you have in our government after reading this story?
How can a person at a young age control their destiny when there are no guidlines?
by JHolland (see profile) 10/14/12

One of Melody's greatest challenges is knowing who to trust. How does her isolation make this worse?
Almost everyone at some point has wished they "could start all over." If you could join WITSEC (without someone trying to kill you) would you do it.
Do you find the author convincing when writing as woman? Does he accurately capture how a woman thinks and feels?
by Barry1776 (see profile) 01/30/12

We were able to have the author on speaker phone and had a lively discussion.
by gourmet (see profile) 04/01/11

The chapter titles baffled us until the math teacher in our group cleared it up for us. Do you understand what they are?
by susancoretti (see profile) 05/27/09

Notes From the Author to the Bookclub

I've always found the exploration of identity to be a compelling topic. Consider how many coming-of-age tales you've consumed over the years, all those stories begging the question who am I or what have I become? I started thinking it might be interesting to explore a character who was not permitted to have an identity-to have virtually all key choices removed from that person's life, to be excluded from the realm of anything being possible. What would make one want to live when there are no answers to the questions posed above? The result is this novel, THE GIRL SHE USED TO BE. I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it.

Book Club Recommendations

A Quote To Consider
by Barry1776 (see profile) 01/30/12
There is a TV series called "In Plain Sight" about the WITSEC program. It begins with the following quote, which served as a good jumping off point for a discussion: "Since 1970, the Federal Witness Protection Program has relocated thousands of witnesses, some criminal, some not, to neighborhoods all across the country. Every one of those individuals shares a unique attribute, distinguishing them from the rest of the general population; and that is somebody wants them dead.'
Excellent choice for book clubs
by susancoretti (see profile) 05/27/09
We have a mix of men and women in our club (four men and eight women) and this title was a great fit as it fully entertained both sexes. It is a fast read, as well, so perfect for a quick pick.

Member Reviews

Overall rating:
  "The Girl She Used to Be"by mmontgomer001 (see profile) 08/19/09

We had the opportunity to speak with the author, he was so nice and took time to answer all of our questions. This is a great book with an interesting plot and twists. It's definitely a page turner.... (read more)

  "Be Prepared to Stay Up Late!"by kellymc (see profile) 08/01/09

This is one of those books that sucks you in from the beginning! I read this book over the course of a couple days...and much of that was late at night when I should have been sleeping, but had to find... (read more)

  "The Girl She Used to Be"by JHolland (see profile) 10/14/12

This is a timely story of how our government attempts to help victims, but falls short of meeting their needs.

  "An Addictive Read - Great For Book Clubs"by Barry1776 (see profile) 01/30/12

Our club, which includes both women and men - LOVED this book.

To begin, the subject matter was fresh and interesting. While many people are familiar in broad terms with the idea of gove

... (read more)

  "The Girl She Used To Be - by David Cristofano"by gourmet (see profile) 04/01/11

This is a dramatic, informative, insightful book about a young girl who is a witness to a murder and gets swept up into a witness protection program. What happens to her as she continues to be moved about,... (read more)

  "good book"by spark (see profile) 06/24/10

  "the girl she used to be"by kdhigg (see profile) 04/29/10

  "Captures your mind and heart"by susancoretti (see profile) 05/27/09

No joke -- it had me from page one. I read the first 30 pages standing in one spot at the front table at Barnes and Noble. I read it and recommended it to my book club. It is only the sec... (read more)

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