The Beginning of After by Jennifer Castle. To be published by Harper Teen in September, 2011. Read in August, 2011. ARC provided by publisher at ALA Annual.
Laurel is sixteen years old when her parents and younger brother are killed in a car accident, along with the mother of a classmate – David. David’s father was driving when the accident happened and is in a coma, leaving some questions about what caused the accident. Laurel and David were not in the car and are left to pick up the pieces of life that happens after. Laurel’s grandmother comes to stay with her and provides Laurel with a support system that David lacks. Laurel is drawn to David and can relate to his pain, but he is the son of the man who killed her family. Meanwhile, her best friend is growing distant, and she doesn’t know if a boy at school is only interested in dating her out of pity.
While I didn’t shed any tears over this one, it is an absorbing read. I liked Laurel and felt for what she goes through. It is comforting how much her grandmother loves her; the reader gets little glimpses into Nana’s life and what she is sacrificing to move into Laurel’s house with her since Nana lives out-of-town.
Laurel takes a job at a local veterinarian’s office; it is a fairly close drive but far enough away that her co-workers don’t know her as the girl-whose-family-died. It gives her a safe place where no one stares and whispers, and she finds healing in the work she does with the animals. She even volunteer’s to take in David’s dog, Masher, when David can’t take care of him. I looooooved Masher. He’s adorable!
But, there were times I felt like the way Laurel and her grieving are written are a little light. I was also bothered by how easily Laurel and her best friend grow distant. Overall, I enjoyed the book, but it just didn’t feel like an honest story about loss, death, sadness, grief, love, friendship, and moving on.
SPOILER: While it might frustrate some readers, I like that we never learn the definitive cause of the accident. Sometimes, horrible things happen and there is nothing to blame it on.