Anyone who’s had something truly crappy happen to them will tell you: It’s all about Before and After. What I’m talking about here is the ka-pow, shake-you-to-your-core-and-turn-your-bones-to-plastic kind of crappy.
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.
Jennifer Castle’s debut novel is a heart-wrenching, surprisingly witty testament to how drastically life can change in the span of a single moment.
I wasn’t completely certain that I wanted to read The Beginning of After, but only because I knew the subject matter would be a difficult one for me. Most of us, unfortunately, at some point in our lives have become acquainted with the tragic loss of a loved one. When I was a child, my own mother lost both of her parents in a horrific accident. When I was 11, my best friend was killed in front of me. I know how much I dreaded the “How are you's” (How do you think I am?) and the “I’m so sorry’s” (Why? What do you have to be sorry for?), and I wondered if Jennifer Castle would be able to communicate such a dark, depressing subject or portray the tumultuous emotions it encapsulates. Well, she can and she did. I started reading the story and after trying three times to (unsuccessfully) put it down for the night, I stayed up and finished the entire book. I love the way Jennifer writes. The way her story flows and the connection she makes you feel to each of her characters. She had me captivated from the beginning and left me thinking about it in the after. This book isn’t just about the grieving or about the loss. It’s a young girl’s story of surviving such loss. Dealing with the heartache and trying to make sense of it all. Trying to move on, but not wanting to let go. It’s about being left behind. It’s about the people who support her and the ones who, like most people, have no clue how to begin to offer that support.
“‘I’m taking it day by day.’ I liked saying this. It was honest, short, and seemed to satisfy people. ‘That’s all you can do. Are you…Do you have professional support?’
For a second I thought he was talking about my bra.”
“And then he patted me on the shoulder, the kind of pat that wanted to be a hug but knew better.”
I fully enjoyed the supporting characters in this story, especially Laurel’s wonderfully stoic grandmother who had to push her own devastation of losing her only son to the background, so that she could become the legal guardian and the stable and loving lifeline to the only grandchild she had left.
David, whose father was driving the car in the accident that not only took the life of his own mother, but Laurel’s entire family, was extremely interesting and particularly absorbing. The drastically different way that he dealt with his grief from Laurel’s was a reminder that there are no set rules in heartache. Death doesn’t come with a handbook, nor does survival. We have to get by the only way we can. The individual way that works for us.
“I've found that letting something stay broken for a little while helps me understand it.”
Meg, Joe, and Eve are all characters that I really liked and I appreciated the realistically different ways they lent their support and extended their friendships to Laurel.
Laurel didn’t want to be seen as the strong, determined girl who could overcome such a tragedy, but then she didn’t know how to feel when she wasn’t known as that girl.
“It seemed like the only way to keep breathing was to focus on the here and now, moment by moment, keeping my mind frozen cold to anything else.”
For me, the story was a therapeutic one, and, as much as you would think it might not be, an enjoyable one. Don’t be afraid to read this book because you think it will be too sad. Laurel’s story is inspiring and encouraging. Jennifer Castle’s debut book is definitely one you don’t want to miss. I look forward to reading more books from this exceptional author.
“That's the whole thing about grieving... It's part of the deal: You get to be alive and to love, but in exchange you also have to put in some serious hurt time.”