The Beginning of After by Jennifer Castle
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
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.
My take: I was hesitant to read this book because I am one of the very few people who absolutely hated If I Stay. I hated the story, not the writing. Yet I loved Where She Went which led me to wonder how I would react to this book. Would it feel contrived or would it offer something of substance which is what I thought the first book lacked? I found this story to be substantial and well worth the read.
The protagonist is 16 year old Laurel who bowed out of celebrating Seder dessert. Ever the good girl, she wanted to brush up on her SAT studies. Her antithesis is David who is also a high school student, a former friend turned rebel without a cause. He bowed out to tick his parents off. So Laurel's and David's parents along with Laurel's 13 year old brother drive off for ice cream, leaving their teens home to greet the police officer who comes to their doors to inform them of the horrible accident. Laurel's family is wiped out. David's mother died while David's father, the driver, is comatose.
The story details the brutal process of figuring out what comes next. Laurel's grandmother relocates to raise Laurel. Laurel slugs along through her grieving process, tries to return to school but breaks down. She struggles to stay on track while balancing her grieving, her anger, and her own development and dealing with the pity of others. Meanwhile, David's father is placed in long term care and David chooses to disappear. David shows up every so often and he and Laurel forge a relationship that bothered me because it wasn't textbook or storybook. It was real. There is guilt, pain, a shared childhood, rage, love, and a myriad of emotions and then David would disappear again.
Laurel's character is so well developed, as is her grandmother's and her grandmother's grief which is nearly forgotten by Laurel. They deal with the memories, the objects that need to be cleaned out, the clothes, Laurel's senior year, the looks of pity, the relationships formed of pity, the healing and the conclusion.
What I liked best about the book is that it is not neat and pretty. The loss is still a loss. Time is marked by "Before" and "After" but the year following is a different passage of time. It's not quite "after" but the time where the survivors piece together what is left and make as much sense of their life as they can. Laurel slugs through while David runs away. Eventually both characters find equilibrium for themselves in different ways.
Sex: lightly implied but some petting