The Beginning of After by Jennifer Castle
HarperTeen, September 6, 2011
Read for 2011 Debut Author Challenge
Summary from Goodreads:
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.
Fans of emotionally true and heartfelt stories, such as Sarah Dessen's THE TRUTH ABOUT FOREVER and IF I STAY by Gayle Forman, will fall in love with Jennifer Castle’s incandescent debut novel...a heart wrenching, surprisingly witty testament to how drastically life can change in the span of a single moment.
It sounds like I've been saying this a lot, but. This is one of the most powerful 2011 debuts I've read this year! I don't even think this review can do this book justice. You MUST add this book to your to-read list when it debuts in September. Seriously.
I suppose it's not giving anything away to say that this book begins with a horrible tragedy. Laurel's parents and brother are suddenly gone, and it may or may not be the fault of her neighbor's father, who was driving (and whose wife died as well). He's in a coma, so the truth of what happened might never be really known. Laurel is, to put it mildly, shattered. Thankfully, she doesn't have to go through this alone. Her Nana willingly puts her life aside to move in with Laurel so the two of them can grieve and attempt to heal together.
There were so many times while reading that I was tearing up. Jennifer Castle had a talent for creating realistic characters, situations, and dialogue. This is not a story about a girl who turns to drugs or prostitution after her parents die; not that those things don't happen, but what is I think is more common is for the survivor to quietly try to reconstruct their lives and try to figure out their place now that everything they've known has changed.
Perhaps this story resonated with me because I've suffered that kind of personal loss, and "the beginning of after" is a completely concrete idea for me. When tragedy strikes, your life is suddenly divided into before the tragedy, and after. Everything in your life will now be defined by when it happened.
Laurel was so strikingly real, and her feelings are so vivid. On the one hand, she wants to just blend in and not have everyone stare at her, wonder if she's OK. On the other hand, if she just blends in, she won't be special anymore, and if she's not special anymore, does that lessen her grief?
Laurel is extremely fortunate to have her Nana. Nana simply gives up her life and makes the three-hour trek to move in with Laurel, no questions asked. I can only hope that, if tragedy has to strike, that every victim and survivor has their own Nana in their corner. She's strong and strong-willed, but not afraid to show that she's hurting, too.
I very rarely quote from books, and I don't think I've ever quoted from an eGalley before. I know that the text is subject to change and once the book comes out I have to compare it. But, I think this little section (Nana and Laurel are preparing to sort through and donate many of the family's coats) showcases Jennifer Castle's gift with language as well as demonstrate the strength of the relationship between grandmother and granddaughter:
"I don't think I can do this, Nana," I said.
She was holding one of Toby's down parkas, petting it. "I don't know if I can either, sweetie. That's why we should do it together and do it fast, before I change my mind."
"Just the coats?"
"Just the coats. For now."
I nodded, biting my lip as the tears came burning through, and laid the cashmere coat on the dining room table.
I said, "This will be the Keep Pile." (p. 185, eGalley)Doesn't that just get you?
I don't want you to think that this is a book just about Laurel and Nana, because it's not. Laurel's got a best friend, new friends and co-workers, a sort-of romance, and the whole thing with David, whose father was driving the car (and is now in a vegetative state). There are so many elements to this story. I will urge you again to be sure to pick this book up in September--I can't wait to get my hands on a finished copy, and to see what else Jennifer Castle has to share with us!
eGalley received from NetGalley.
Enjoy your reading!