Tuesday, August 16, 2011

The Beginning of After

The Beginning of After by Jennifer Castle (NY: HarperCollins, 2011). Reviewed from e-proof provided by publisher via netgalley.com.

Summary from publisher:
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. Now, Laurel must navigate a new world 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.

Castle's novel poignantly and unflinchingly examines how Laurel deals with a cataclysmic loss. One minute she's studying vocabulary for the SAT and the next she's burying her family. After the initial numbness wears off a bit, Laurel tries to go back to school, but she feels like everyone's watching her, pitying her, even judging her. For instance, her best friend Megan wants her to go to prom and even knows someone who will ask Laurel, but Laurel is sure it would be a pity date since Joe has never seemed to notice her before. Also, weird rumors are swirling about Laurel and David, the son of the man who was driving the car in the accident that killed her family. Laurel goes to prom with Joe and is having a good time until David shows up at the after party and confronts her, at which point Laurel has a breakdown. From there, Laurel tries a bunch of different coping tactics, including a grief counselor.

Kudos to Castle for tackling a highly fraught topic and showing grief as a long process rather than a quick romantic adventure. Feelings, especially grief, are mercurial and unpredictable, and the feelings examined include those of all the characters, for as Laurel comes to realize, it's not all about her--her grandmother, her friends, her friends' families, her teachers--everyone in her life is dealing with the loss in their own ways, too, and her relationships will never be the same as they were before her loss, no matter how much she wishes they can be. Recommended for ages 13 & up. Language, sexual situations, intense situations.

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