The Beginning of After is written by Jennifer Castle. It was published in 2011 by HarperTeen. This is Castle’s first novel. Her website can be found here.
Genre: Tough Read, Realistic, Young Adult
“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, overwhelming memories lurk everywhere, and Mr. Kaufman is comatose but still very much alive. Through it all 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.”
“Laurel?” he asked.
I wanted to look up and smile, wipe away my tears, then wink at him for some damage control. But I couldn’t. I was just staring at his hand on my knee, and I was wailing.
“oh my God…,” said Joe, standing up. Backing away.
I put m face in my hands and let the top half of me fall toward the lounge chair, a violent crumple. Noises were coming out of me that I didn’t think I was capable of. Noises like I was being physically attacked, afraid for my life, a girl in an alley at midnight.
The pressure of my hands against my eyelids was making me see starbursts, yellow and red, but I was seeing David’s face too.
A freaking corsage. You’re an orphan.
“Sometimes I play that night over in my head, with things going differently,” he said. It came out sounding distracted, dreamy.
I didn’t answer.
“You know, like, instead of going to Kevin’s to piss of my parents, I do the decent thing and go with them to Freezy’s. We would have had to go in two cars.”
He looked at me, and I tried to hide the shock on my face.
“It might have changed everything,” he said.
I thought of my Wondering Well. It had been Suzie’s suggestion. Every time I felt myself drowning in what-ifs, I wrote them down on a piece of paper, folded it up, threw it in an old mayonnaise jar, and screwed the lid back on tight. It was a way of getting them out, letting them go.
My Wondering Well was getting full, and I’d need to find another jar soon.
Swallowing hard, I finally said. “It might have. But it didn’t.”
Recommended Age Range: 14+
What I Liked:
Kudos to Castle for not going for the conventional romance here, or at least, the conventional writing of the romance. I actually enjoyed it, for the most part. Also, thank you, thank you, thank you, for Laurel’s “No” at a certain point. That was very refreshing to read. For once, sex wasn’t the central focus of the relationship.
Castle handled the topic really well, and Laurel’s emotions were dealt with nicely and realistically. I really liked the ending and the decisions that Laurel made about college and other things. It reflected her growth as a character and the things that she learned throughout the novel.
All in all, a pretty good book.
What I Didn’t Like:
It didn’t really stand out too much; nothing really blew me away. It was a good book, but an average one.
The Beginning of After handles the emotions that are felt after a traumatic event really well, and Laurel’s growth is really nice to see. Her relationship to David is somewhat refreshing and handled slightly differently than normal, which I liked. It’s not too angsty, but it’s not flat, either. It is, however, more than a little average.
Coming Up Next: The Awakening by Kelley Armstrong