The Beginning of After by Jennifer Castle
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Anyone who's had something truly crappy happen to them will tell you: It's all about Before and After. What I'm talking about here is the "ka-pow," shake-you-to-your-core-and-turn-your-bones-to-plastic kind of crappy.
Sixteen-year-old Laurel's world changes instantly when her parents and brother are killed in a terrible car accident. Behind the wheel is the father of her bad-boy neighbor, David Kaufman, whose mother is also killed. In the aftermath of the tragedy, Laurel navigates a new reality in which she and her best friend grow apart, boys may or may not be approaching her out of pity, overpowering memories lurk everywhere, and Mr. Kaufman is comatose but still very much alive. Through it all there is David, who swoops in and out of Laurel's life and to whom she finds herself attracted against her better judgment. She will forever be connected to him by their mutual loss--a connection that will change them both in unexpected ways.
Review:I'm not a big fan of YA contemporary books. Mostly I think of sixteen/seventeen year old girls yarning about prom and what shoes to wear with hot guys causing awkward situations that get filled into 250 pages of wasted reading time.
But this one blew me away. Most probably because of the dark subject of death and how a teenager deals with it. Laurel Meisner and David Kaufmann were childhood friends then one day they stopped talking, they grew away from each other and had different friends, as teens do. But their parents remain friends and join together for seder. Laurel feels completely awkward and makes an excuse to leave the meal early, and David does the same. Him and Laurel barely spoke apart from awkward acknowledgments of each other. David wanted to annoy his father by leaving early knowing it would cause a scene. The rest of the families decide to drive and have ice cream when the terrible tragedy happens.
Suddenly Laurel is no longer the daughter and sister in a loving family. Suddenly she's alone in the world. But so is David. His mother died also and his father remains in a coma. The police eventually surmise that his father was over the limit drinkwise to drive, and that fact has a huge part to play in the rest of the story.
Laurels grandmother moves in and takes over as legal guardian and steers her through the next hours, days, weeks, and months. But Nana also lost her son, daughter-in-law and grandson in the accident so, like two magnets bouncing around each other, they make it through the times ahead.
David on the other hand internally implodes. Such raw emotion can only come from a guy who now has no back up family to take care of him and a father who is outright blamed for killing 4 other people. Its no wonder he reacts they way he does.
This isn't an adventure story with lots of action and racing heartbeats. This is almost like a diary written by Laurel of how she copes with her life. After. That includes her loss, her grief, her pain, her ability to push painful moments behind a wall until she's ready to cope with them, and also about how she finds her way out of the maze one day at a time. And that includes, after a heart-wrenching prom party incident with David (upsetting words were said on both side), the realisation that she needs help finally to learn how to cope with all of her emotions that have managed to bottle themselves inside with no exit or easy way out.
Laurel figures out soon that everyone is treating her differently. The looks she receives, the pity conversations she has friends, the almost-too-good-to-be-true prom invite, the popular girls being nice. Even her best friend avoids certain discussions which leads to complications with their own relationship. Soon not enough is being said even though its intended, and the cracks start to show.But the one person she CAN talk to, and she knows will be honest with her is David. She's afraid, terrified even, and even though she knows about his father she still understands what he's going through and offers the olive branch.
Parts of this story actually had me crying. Other parts made me understand more what it must be like to feel such raw emotion and grief. And I absolutely understood why Laurel made certain decisions like going to prom, meeting David, and visiting his father in hospital.
I've been reading a steady stream of paranormal romances lately and I decided to read this for a bit of normality/real world story telling. But it was absolutely so much more than that. A must read. Grab a tissue while you do.
You can reach Jennifer Castle here:
View all my reviews