Thursday, June 2, 2011

Review: What Comes After by Steve Watkins

Tags: YA, contemporary, abuse, farms


Iris Wight’s idyllic life in Maine ends when her veterinarian father dies and she is sent to live with the aunt and cousin she’s hardly met, on their farm in North Carolina. Iris immediately does not get along with Aunt Sue or Book Allen, on account of their cruelty towards both her and their farm animals. As Iris gets closer to the farm animals, she is determined to save them from Aunt Sue’s cruelty. But saving them may mean getting hurt herself, and Iris is not sure who is willing to save her.


WHAT COMES AFTER is a powerful and heartwrenching YA contemporary read. Watkins slips effortlessly into Iris’ voice and gives us a gorgeously told story about both the extreme cruelty and the endurance of human nature.

It’s hard to believe that this book was written by a man, because Iris’ voice is so convincing. She is a bit on the quiet side, due to the upheavals she’s had to endure, but she is far from weak: from the start, I admired how Iris respected her aunt yet did not let Sue trod all over her. This is a girl who has the capacity to love deeply, whose capacity to do so is tested by her circumstances. WHAT COMES AFTER was a gorgeous read primarily because of how believable Iris is.

It’s easy to caricaturize villains, but Aunt Sue, Book, and other troubled characters in the book are well-rounded; we can believe that these people could exist in real life, even if we may not understand or agree with their attitudes or decisions. Watkins also knows his way around a farm: his depiction of the goats will tug at even a non-animal lover’s heart, and I empathized with them as much as I would with a human character.

Overall, WHAT COMES AFTER is arguably one of the strongest contemporary reads I’ve had the pleasure of discovering this year so far. It’s a shame that this book hasn’t gotten much notice so far, but I’m hoping that, with the endorsement of well-respected authors such as Francisco X. Stork (Marcelo in the Real World), this book will find its way into more readers’ hands.

Similar Authors
Nina de Gramont (Every Little Thing in the World)

Cover discussion: It's a little generic. A beautiful picture. But generic.

Candlewick / April 12, 2011 / Hardcover / 334pp. / $16.99

Personal copy.


  1. I really liked this book and enjoyed your review. I think this book could be enjoyed my more people too! I hope it gets more "noticed."

  2. I have been in a YA Contemporary kick lately, but don't know which ones will "wow" me.

    This sounds really fantastic - and it is a shame that it is not getting noticed as much as others are. A well-rounded villain makes the story even more troubling, especially when s/he seems very realistic!

    I love when an oddball / less popular book is recognized on blogs, and I'm glad you chose to read and review it for us!

    I will definitely check this out!

  3. I'm usually a little shy of contemporary unless I know the author or have a great recommendation - but this one certainly sounds good (and your stamp of approval is worth a lot). I'll *eventually* check it out. Nice review!

  4. I think with such a strong endorsement from you, a lot of people (including me) will be picking this up. I'm always looking for YA contemps, and this looks like one I will really love. thank you for the review and bringing this book to my attention :)

  5. the idea of this book intrigues me greatly. add your review and Stork's endorsement to the mix and i am SOLD.


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