Published by Roaring Book Press on September 20, 2016
Genres: Young Adult, Contemporary
When Caroline’s little brother is kidnapped, his subsequent rescue leads to the discovery of Ethan, a teenager who has been living with the kidnapper since he was a young child himself. In the aftermath, Caroline can’t help but wonder what Ethan knows about everything that happened to her brother, who is not readjusting well to life at home. And although Ethan is desperate for a friend, he can’t see Caroline without experiencing a resurgence of traumatic memories. But after the media circus surrounding the kidnappings departs from their small Texas town, both Caroline and Ethan find that they need a friend–and their best option just might be each other.
After reading Devoted by Jennifer Mathieu earlier this year, I knew I had to read her new release Afterward, and was very excited to receive a review copy from the publisher. Afterward immediately gripped me with its story. We follow a dual perspective between two teenagers, Caroline and Ethan. Caroline’s younger brother was kidnapped, and when the police find him, another boy, Ethan, who had gone missing four years ago was discovered in the same home. Caroline desperately wants to find out what happened to Dylan, her brother, during the days he was gone. Dylan is autistic, and cannot communicate with words, but it is clear he suffered from something very traumatic. Thus, Caroline makes it her mission to befriend Ethan to see if she can help Dylan.
When you pair this fascinating story with Mathieu’s writing style, you are in for a real treat. I really love how Mathieu’s writing captivates me as a reader. There is something so easy about the writing – it is not overly flowery, but it’s also not too simplistic. The writing flows really well and keeps me turning pages quickly to find out what happens next in the story. Plus, I was sucked into the plot from page one because I, just like Caroline, wanted to know what Ethan and Dylan went through with their kidnapper.
Moreover, I really appreciate the research that I can tell went into this novel. I can feel how the story comes to life with the careful attention to detail, and the effort Mathieu puts in to create an authentic story. For example, it meant a lot to me that Dylan has low-functioning autism, and that it is represented very well. It is rare to see autistic characters in books, and I think it is important to create awareness and build empathy through the stories we read. Similarly, I think it was great that we got to see how Ethan and his family are rebuilding their lives with the help of therapists. Although what Ethan goes through is extremely rare, getting a glimpse into his therapy sessions normalizes it for others who may be afraid to seek help.
The only thing I did not enjoy so much about Afterward is the ending. I was a bit underwhelmed with it, as I expected the story to go one way, but instead it focuses on something else. While I won’t discuss this in detail due to spoilers, I do want to mention that I wish the book went a bit deeper into what Ethan went through during his four years in captivity.
That being said, I really enjoyed this book, and highly recommend it. If you are looking for a gripping young adult contemporary that is not focused on romance, Afterward is a great choice. I fell in love with the characters and cared so deeply for them from page one. I know I will continue to pick up the books that Mathieu writes in the future, as they are truly something different in the young adult section today.
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