Book Review: The Beginning of After by Jennifer Castle
Sixteen-year-old Laurel’s world changes instantly when her parents and brother are killed in a terrible car accident. Behind the wheel is the father of her bad-boy neighbor, David Kaufman, whose mother is also killed. In the aftermath of the tragedy, Laurel navigates a new reality in which she and her best friend grow apart, boys may or may not be approaching her out of pity, overpowering memories lurk everywhere, and Mr. Kaufman is comatose but still very much alive. Through it all there is David, who swoops in and out of Laurel’s life and to whom she finds herself attracted against her better judgment. She will forever be connected to him by their mutual loss—a connection that will change them both in unexpected ways.
I really enjoyed the beginning of this book. Well, “enjoyed” wasn’t really the right word. I found it very emotional. I was skimming through cheap books on my Nook, and I started reading the free sample of this one. When I found myself in tears after a few pages, I knew I had to buy it. To be fair, it doesn’t take much to make me cry, or at least it hasn’t for the past few years, so it’s entirely possible that the book wasn’t really that well written in the beginning. It was really, really late when I read it. That said, the beginning hooked me.
We don’t really see a lot of Laurel’s family before they’re killed, but I think we see enough to feel her pain. I don’t feel sad for the characters who died, but I did feel sorry for Laurel. We get a few glimpses of her family as the book goes on, but the book isn’t really about them. It’s about Laurel dealing with the aftermath of their deaths.
This book held my interest for the first quarter of the book because it was really emotional. The next quarter was sort of boring. She was shopping for a prom dress, and she was sort of going out with a guy I didn’t really care about, and it was just sort of boring. Of course, the writing also sort of mimicked what I imagine grief might feel like – sadness at first, followed by a period of numbness, followed by an attempt to get your life back together and focus on other things. I’ve never lost anyone close to me, so I’m not sure if that’s true, but I could sort of deal with the boringness because it seemed to fit Laurel’s emotion.
I started getting interested again when David became more of a main character. There’s the obligatory love triangle, which I wasn’t expecting in a book about a girl whose family just died. (I guess I didn’t read the synopsis very well before I started reading.) Part of me is sort of annoyed that her family’s dead and she’s worried about boys, but on the other hand, her family has been dead for several months by the point David becomes a big deal, and I can understand her needing a distraction. She doesn’t stop thinking about her family during those times, though. They still pop up in random moments, and she goes from being okay to being on the verge of tears. I thought that was handled well. I could feel what Laurel was feeling most of the time. When she was mad, I was mad. When she was sad, I was sad. She doesn’t always make the best choices, but there was a never a time when I was taken out of the story by the unbelievableness of it, which is something.
Overall: I didn’t enjoy this book as much as I thought I would, and I didn’t like it for all the reasons I thought I would, but I still enjoyed it. It was less literary and more contemporary as the novel wore on, but it was still a book that focused largely on characters, and it held my interest outside of that second quarter. I don’t know that I’d recommend anyone buy this, but if you were already considering it, it might be worth the read.