Monday, October 24, 2011

Review: The Beginning of After by Jennifer Castle

Tags: YA, contemporary, grief


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.


  1. I'm sorry this one was a disappointment to you. I think I have a copy of it on my kindle!

  2. This kind of story line is a major trend in YA right now, and it is getting tiresome. Too bad it didn't turn out great for you.

  3. Aw, too bad you didn't like this one. I was hoping I'd like this book, too, but if the first half of a book could be condensed into 3 chapters... hmm.

    Thanks for the review!

  4. Hmm, I saw this in the library and wanted to check it out. I think maybe I'll leave it on the shelf for a while longer. I'm glad you wrote an honest review.

  5. Oh, that's too bad. I'm going to read it and see for myself. Maybe I'll find it more appealing...?

    - Asher (from Paranormal Indulgence)

  6. You made the right choice. I toughed it out and finished and have to say it was lackluster at best. The most entertaining and enjoyable character was definitely the dog!

  7. Yeah, I have to agree with a lot of what you wrote. I too managed to finish the entire book and it really doesn't get any better. I was SO disappointed. They promoted this book as a cross between Sarah Dessen and If I Stay. That could not have been any further from the truth. I did like the concept behind it, but there was just way too much wrong with everything else.


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