The Beginning of After

Jennifer Castle, Author
Jennifer Castle. HarperTeen, $17.99 (432p) ISBN 978-0-06-198579-9
Paperback - 425 pages - 978-0-06-198580-5
Ebook - 448 pages - 978-0-06-209320-2
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After Gayle Forman’s acclaimed If I Stay, books tackling the same topic—a girl surviving the death of her parents and brother in a car crash—face inevitable comparisons. And although there’s certainly room for more stories with this premise, Castle’s debut, while affecting, comes up short. Sixteen-year-old Laurel reluctantly goes to Passover dinner with her family and their neighbors, the Kaufmans, whose son, David, is an estranged childhood friend. After dinner, everyone except Laurel and David goes out for ice cream; only David’s father survives the subsequent accident, and he is left in a coma. While Laurel’s journey to recovery and her blossoming romance with David are compelling reasons to keep reading, the story never delivers the raw emotional truths expected. Laurel’s reactions to the accident get lost among other mini-dramas that pop up along the way, and the blunt descriptions of her feelings (as well as how early in the book the accident takes place, before the characters are really established) render her grief flat and generic. Too little “before” makes the “after” less wrenching. Ages 12–up. (Sept.)
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