Monday, October 24, 2011
Review: The Beginning of After by Jennifer Castle
Laurel’s life shatters when she loses her entire family in a car accident. As she struggles to move on while trying to figure out where her grief—or other people’s knowledge of her tragedy—fits in, David, the boy-next-door whose parents were also involved in the same accident, seems to move in and out of her life. Tragedy separates the two with a seemingly uncrossable chasm, and yet maybe they need one another above all in their different, yet mutual, grief.
Oh, this book. Sigh. In the beginning I had no interest in reading yet another YA contemporary talking about grieving the death of family members. There’s really, truly only so much I can read about grief plots. But then, inspired by high praise from early reviewers, I was convinced to give THE BEGINNING OF AFTER a shot—only to wish, after a long and drawn-out struggle, that I had just stuck with my original instincts.
To give credit where credit is due, I actually quite admire what THE BEGINNING OF AFTER attempted to do, and that is to talk about the less sympathetic aspects of grief. Meaning: When strangers learn of your tragedy and offer to do you favors, do you accept or reject? When classmates start paying more attention to you as a result, how do you react? I admire that Jennifer Castle unflinchingly let Laurel explore these unappealing and perhaps even shocking aspects of losing loved ones, because it’s the truth: tragedy is tragedy, but tragedy in some cases is also opportunity, and we’d be willingly blindfolding ourselves if we don’t acknowledge that.
However, I forced myself to get to the halfway point before I finally had to knowledge that absolutely nothing relevant to the premise has happened yet. The first half of the book is such a trove of Things to Avoid When Writing Yet Another YA Novel About Grief: popular girls approaching the MC, formerly uninterested guys approaching the MC, former best friend drifting away, etc. You might ask, where’s David? as the very idea of him begins to seem far more interesting than reading about every single minute detail of Laurel’s life. Well, you see, that’s a very good question. Because for the first half of the book, David’s mostly on the other side of the country. How’s that for plot and character development?!
Readers, I’m done. Maybe the second half of this overly long book has some merit, but if you’ve given me a 400-plus page book in which approximately 150 of the first 200 pages could be condensed into three chapters, I’m going to hand it write back to you and tell you to do some heavy rethinking in terms of revisions before you ask me to take it seriously.
Cover discussion: It's pretty and evocative, in the way that many YA novels about grief are. Too bad the contents of the book don't quite live up to the prettiness of the cover.
HarperTeen / Sept. 6, 2011 / Hardcover / 432pp. / $17.99
Requested for review through NetGalley.