Thursday, September 15, 2011

Review: The Beginning of After by Jennifer Castle

Release Date: September 6, 2011
Series: Standalone
Publisher: HarperTeen
Buy: Amazon | Barnes & Noble

Laurel is just a typical teen, studying for the SATs, worrying about French homework, talking about boys with her best friend Megan -- until suddenly, she isn't. Her world falls apart in one fell swoop, starting with the knock of a policeman at her front door. In the wake of her family's death, Laurel must rebuild from the rubble of Before, and learn to start living in the After.

In The Beginning of After, Jennifer Castle explores what it means to survive. Though there are many such stories in the young adult genre, this novel stands out. It examines not just the grief, but the process of learning to live again when nothing will ever be the same. Laurel is understandably a mess, and it's impossible not to cry for her as she makes it through each day on trial and error -- going back to school, breaking down at a party, staying in bed for a week, rescuing strays and almost giving up altogether. Castle's portrayal of Laurel's struggle as she figures out how to carry on is heartbreakingly raw and honest. There are ups and downs and setbacks, people who try to help but only make things worse, and those few crystallized moments where the light at the end of the tunnel briefly illuminates the darkness.

It is inspiring to see Laurel's remaining family and friends rally around her, even as she pushes them away in her depression. Unlike many YA novels, Laurel's grandmother is a steady and necessary presence in the story. She is an amazing, compassionate woman who drops everything to care for the orphaned granddaughter she fiercely loves, their twin grief making the sense of loss all the more resonant and devastating. Her presence reminds Laurel that she isn't the only one who lost her family that day, and she isn't completely alone in the aftermath. Without each other, I don't believe either of them could have survived.

The relationship between Laurel and her best friend Megan starts off strong. The girls have been best friends forever and Meg is the first one there in the wake of the accident. I was hopeful that she would be a grounding force in the novel, staying at Laurel's side through it all. Unfortunately, Megan lets her own problems make her bitter toward her best friend, whose tragedy she can't even begin to comprehend. She (understandably) doesn't know what to say or do to help Laurel, but trying would have been enough. Instead she seems rather petulant, a poor friend when Laurel needs her the most.

David is an even bigger mess than Laurel, his mother dead and his father in a coma from the accident that killed Laurel's family. He comes and goes, seeming to care for no one but himself. Yet, he's the only one who can even begin to fathom what Laurel's feeling. He doesn't treat her with kid gloves, and, when he bothers to stick around, their heartfelt discussions give Laurel the dose of normalcy she so desperately desires. Still, their relationship is far from healthy. His constant disappearances leave Laurel abandoned and alone, and their frequent fights upset the delicate balance she's managed to achieve. They're both too broken to fix each other in the end, but the ties that bind them are too strong to sever.

The Beginning of After is a powerful tale of tragedy and loss, forgiveness and moving on. Readers will be in tears almost from page one, at both the magnitude of human compassion and the horror of unfathomable loss.


Disclosure: I received an advance galley of this novel from the publisher for an honest review.

Part of the 2011 Debut Author Challenge.

Come back tomorrow for a guest post with Jennifer Castle!


Anonymous said...

Yay! I'm really glad you liked this one! It was on my Nook, but I think it might have expired. (So many books, so little time!) If you liked it so much, I'll definitely buy it :-)

Lauren M said...

Wow! I'd been on the fence about this one, but now I'm definitely going to read it! The Beginning of After sounds so powerful, and I kind of like the idea of the characters going from being complete messes to stronger individuals. Fantastic review, Casey! :)

ashelynn hetland said...

I had some problems with this one, mostly because while I was reading it I was comparing it to IF I STAY. I think if I had a different expectation when I started reading it, I would have really loved it. I did like it, though! It's a good book.

Anonymous said...

Oh Man. After reading your review; I think I may have to make sure I have a tissue box next to me when i read it! Great Review!!! definitely reminds me of If I stay though which if it is, it is going to be WOW.

Rummanah Aasi said...

Great review, Casey! I've had my eye on this book for a while and wanted to wait to read some reviews before I picked it up. It definitely sounds like an emotional read. So glad to hear that you enjoyed it and look forward to Jennifer's guest post!

lisa :) said...

This sounds kind of heavy but also like a really well done work. Great review!

Mac Campbell said...

Well, I hope the book ended happily. It's a brave artistic choice to write something so dark and depressing.
The book reminds me a little of the old TV show Party of Five, which chronicled brothers and sisters who had to deal with school, life, and the death of their parents.
-Mac Campbell

mfay2 said...

Wow! I love the way you review. Sounds so organized and professional and you mention a lot of points. I look like a kid trying to play with seniors! Awesome book, right? I cried even when I was starting to read it. And I love that the author didn't have this "insta love" between Laurel and David.

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