ARC Review: Afterward by Jennifer Mathieu

review         book

I'll Meet You Theretitle: Afterward
author: Jennifer Mathieu
pages: 320
format: Kindle ARC
buy it: Amazon | B&N | Goodreads
rating: 4.5/5 (from hated to loved) or 7.5/10 (all books I've ever read)
recommended for: Fans of All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven, Sarah Dessen anything, or Girl in Pieces by Kathleen Glasgow.
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.

in depth

  • It's a difficult thing to write a book about kidnapping without making it sensationalized or melodramatic.  It's an even tougher thing to deal with the psychological fallout without veering into cliche.  Mathieu's tale is clearly one of love, of careful choice and thought, of empathy and accuracy.  I can't speak for kidnapping victims, but I've seen enough PTSD that I can applaud Mathieu on the authenticity of her tale.  Everyone experiences PTSD differently, but Mathieu obviously did her homework, and it shows through in Ethan's believable experience.  

  • The plot's a bit jarring at first, because it starts after.  Quite a bit after.  You come in immediately at the moment of the finding, and then suddenly we've skipped three months.  Um, what?  Where did it go!?  I felt very out of touch at first, with the characters and their story.  I wanted to know how those first weeks unfolded.  However, I soon caught up with Mathieu's game.  She doesn't want to give you the immediate aftermath.  Enough Lifetime specials have done that.  When she says Afterward, she means the long run.  After the TV cameras have turned to a new scandal.  After the newspapers have rotted.  When the only thing to do is get back to living, or founder.  

  • It's then that the story really gains traction.  On one end you have Caroline, whose brother with autism was kidnapped for four unspeakable days.  His difficulties are severe enough that he can scarcely speak, and Caroline's parents just seem to want to pretend nothing ever happened.  But Dylan's inexplicable cries hint at the terrors he experienced.  Then there is Ethan, gone for 6 years, with holes in his brain and terrible secrets in his heart.  He's thrust into a world of therapy, a hovering mother, a nervous father, friends who are strangers.  Their situations are obvious mirrors, but in a way that rarely gets heavy-handed.  

  • Caroline and Ethan become friends.  You think you know what that means, but you don't--and that's the best part, is that Mathieu handles their friendship in a way that feels actually realistic for once.  You think trauma is the seed for a whirlwind romance?  Hell no.  It's messy and difficult and awkward, and reading about them navigating the awkward, difficult mess was a slice of actual life.  I came to know them both so intimately, to appreciate their fears and faults.  I never felt that Mathieu was manipulating my emotions.  

  • Even better, there's an actual description of therapy as something not awful.  Yes, ladies and gents and whatever you choose to identify as, Ethan goes to a therapist who isn't a stupid quack.  He bonds with this therapist.  He makes strides!  And the therapist seems to actually know what he's talking about!  I'll nitpick, because the treatment he uses isn't really gold standard evidence based PTSD treatment.  However, I'll relent, because even though you should be careful of therapists who do their own thing, 1. a huge part of the effect of therapy is a trusting relationship with the therapist and 2. it's not unrealistic for community therapists to devise their own methods.  There's my soapbox for the day.  Suffice to say, it's breathtaking to see such a functional, realistic portrayal of therapy in a book.  I hope it inspires kids who aren't sure about therapy to give it a try.  

  • All in all, it's an affecting, harrowing, deeply moving book.  Mathieu lovingly chronicles the days Afterward with an attention to realism that makes this book cut deeper than any sensationalized manic pixie mentally ill romp out there.  Shit happens.  People get hurt.  They also fight and heal.  Caroline and Ethan's story is full of missteps and miscommunication, uncertainty and awkwardness.  The language is polished but not too elevated; their voices come through sharply, their dialogue reads like real teens.  There are no easy answers, but there's hope, and real emotions delicately expressed.  

  • And if you already love it, look out for my review of The Weight of Zero on Friday, because I'm having such amazing deja vu.  

        in a sentence

        Afterward is a deeply authentic, heartfelt story of friendship, family, and recovery.  


        will i read this author again?  Yes! I still need to backtrack and catch Devoted. 
        will i continue the series?  N/A 

        Note: I received this copy from the publisher in exchange for a review. The price of the book and its origin in no way affected my stated opinions.

        1 comment:

        1. I've heard really great things about this book, and this review just makes me even more interested in it. You never know if a book like this is just going to seem sensationalized---glad it didn't come off that way.

          Nicole @ Feed Your Fiction Addiction