The Ethan I Was Before (2017)


  • Moral assessment: (L-B1) Some moral difficulties
  • Public: Generic

This book is about Ethan Truitt, a 12 year old Boston born and raised boy who is grieving for his best friend from birth Kacey Reid, a talented, athletic girl. Ethan’s parents Dave and Laura move to their family to her very small hometown of Palm Knot ("Jewel of the South") on the Georgian Atlantic sea coast. There Ethan is immediately befriended by Suzanne, daughter of Ethan’s mother’s schoolmate. Suzanne is the most popular girl in the class, but a bully and archenemy of Coralee, who turns out to be a faithful friend to Ethan. The book is well written, at times even gripping. Only little by little (in 75 short chapters) does it reveal what happened to Kacey, to Ethan, to Coralee and her mother, to Ethan’s mother and her father, and to other inhabitants of Palm Knot, who seem shadowy to the newcomer. It is written in first person, with frequent lists of so far known facts, compiled by Ethan to help him try to understand the situation. The fundamental moral of the story appears to be one of humaneness with self and others: of not rashly judging others, nor especially yourself, of learning to overcome fear and guilt, of the value of friendship (“One true friend is worth a hundred false friends.”) and of overcoming grief. Reading between the lines (or recognizing the subtext) one discovers a message that young people need to speak in confidence with someone who can help them distinguish their imagined impression from reality, someone who can encourage them to dare to put words their innermost feelings. At the end the reader will find a moral dilemma regarding medical care on the end of life. Even if it is possible that the solution taken could be morally acceptable -based in the distinction between ordinary and extraordinary means of mantaining life-, it seems that it is motivated only in sentimental grounds. The book also lacks of references to spiritual realities, wich would be reasonable to find in a narration that faces quite fundamental events regardinf human existence. J.F. (Australia, 2017)

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What do the moral assessments mean in relation to works of literature?

The assessments are divided into two groups, one for Literature (L) and the other for Thought (P). For Literature the assessments are as follows:

  •  L-A1: Nothing morally inappropriate.
  •  L-A2: Nothing morally inappropriate, although may be unsuitable for younger readers (e.g. because there are topics requiring a certain maturity on the part of the reader).
  •  L-B1: Some morally inappropriate content.
  •  L-B2: Contains significant sections contrary to faith or morals.
  •  L-C1: Contains some lurid passages, or presents a general ideological framework that could confuse those without much Christian formation.
  • L-C2: Contains several lurid passages, or presents an ideological framework that is contrary or foreign to Christian values.
  •  L-C3: Explicitly contradicts Catholic faith or morals, or is directed against the Church and its institutions.

What do the moral assessments mean in relation to non-fiction works?

Works of Thought (P) are assessed according to the degree of knowledge required to evaluate the implications of affirmations made with respect to the Christian faith.

  • P-A1 or P-A2: These books present doctrinal matters in accordance with the teaching of the Church as set out, for example, in the Catechism of the Catholic Church. They avoid complicated topics and subjects not yet theologically settled. They are grouped according to whether or not they require a certain minimum of Christian formation.
    •  P-A1: General readership.
    •  P-A2: Readers with general cultural or basic Christian formation.
  • P-B1 or P-B2: To appreciate how certain topics impinge on the faith, the reader requires a good cultural formation with respect to the matters dealt with (P-B1), or even university-level studies in these areas (P-B2). In particular, these books may take for granted certain widely-held opinions opposed to the faith, even though such ideas may not be central to their argument – and can be easily detected by readers with a certain amount of formation.
    •  P-B1: Requires prior general knowledge of the subject.
    •  P-B2: Readers with Christian formation and knowledgeable about the subject matter.
  • P-C1, P-C2 or P-C3: Because of the implications of the topics dealt with, or the need to be aware of the reasons why some of the theories set out in the book are invalid, it is always necessary for the reader to have very good formation in the area in question, whether university-level (P-C1) or specialist (e.g. a doctorate: P-C2). Hence the assessments place emphasis on the objective content of the book, rather than on its possible readership. The P-C3 assessment is reserved for those works which set out to contradict or deny certain aspects of the faith or the teachings of the Catholic Magisterium.
    •  P-C1: Contains doctrinal errors of some importance.
    •  P-C2: Whilst not being explicitly against the faith, the general approach or its main points are ambiguous or opposed to the Church’s teachings.
    •  P-C3: Incompatible with Catholic doctrine.

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