Reading level: Young Adult
Hardcover: 272 pages
Publisher: HarperTeen (September 6, 2011)
Author's Website: http://www.jennifercastle.com/
Buy the Book: Amazon
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.
I had just finished reading "If I Stay" and "Where She Went" when "The Beginning of After" came to me. The basis for all 3 of these stories is remarkably similar. The main characters are teenage girls who are left as orphans when their parents and younger brothers are killed in car accidents. What happens after these tragedies is what makes the stories different. The main character in "The Beginning of After" is Laurel Meisner, a 16 year old junior in high school. She lives in a suburb of New York City with her parents and younger brother. One night in April following Passover dinner at their neighbors' home, the adults decide to go for ice cream. Laurel begs off to do homework and the neighbors' son, David, says that he has other plans. On the way to the ice cream shop there is a car accident which kills Laurel's parents and her little brother and David's mother. David's father survives but is left in a coma. For Laurel, this is the beginning of after. She must take one day, one step, at a time to begin living her life without her family. Her only surviving relative is her father's mother, Nana, who comes to live with Laurel and care for her.
I liked this book very much. The story is sweet and gentle, heartfelt and real. Laurel's journey through grief is long and difficult. It is a totally new and unexpected experience for her and she is very unsure about how to handle it. There isn't just the grief of losing her family but also the instant notoriety of being "that girl". People whisper about her, talk to her in hushed tones and even avoid her. There are complications with her best friend Meg, a possible boyfriend named Joe and the disturbing presence of David, the other surviving teen. This story struck me quite personally because I have a daughter and son-in-law who have a family including a 16 year old granddaughter and 2 younger children....and I am called Nana by them. Although Laurel is the main character, I kept thinking about her Nana and how they had to support each other through terrible circumstances. I cannot even imagine having to go through such a tragedy let alone having to be the rock for a young woman at the same time.
Laurel's story progresses day by day with ups and downs. She slowly regains her footing in life and begins to figure out what her future will look like. This was a very good story with a good message and believable, likeable characters. I definitely recommend it.
- Sexual Content: Moderate
- Profanity: Moderate
- Violence: None
- Other Notables: Underage Drinking, Discussion of Suicide
For more details check out The Beginning of After on Parental Book Reviews.