Thursday, June 2, 2011
Review: What Comes After by Steve Watkins
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.
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