Review + Giveaway: Afterward by Jennifer Mathieu

Rating: 4 stars
Pub Date: September 20, 2016
Publisher: Roaring Brook Press
Genre: young adult realistic fiction
Format/Source: ARC, borrowed from a friend
Status: Standalone

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.

Wow. Afterward was the first of Jennifer Mathieu's books that I have read, and it won't be the last. This book really kicked me in the feels. Afterward is based on a real-life double kidnapping case in which one boy was taken and then a second several years after, but the book is obviously fictional and several details are different, which I think was a good call on Jennifer's part.

One of the major differences between the real case and Ethan's story in Afterward is that Ethan's abductor commits suicide rather than be arrested. I very much appreciate Jennifer's focus on Ethan, rather than the perpetrator, because the story could focus on his healing and development, rather than on the messy media circus and a public trial that often accompany these situations. Ethan does face the abuse he was subjected to in many scenes, but he is able to do so in safe circumstances, instead of reliving his nightmare in a lawyer's office or a courtroom. Again, the focus is on Ethan-the-person rather than Ethan-the-headline-victim. I think Jennifer was incredibly thoughtful and tender toward Ethan, and therefore, I would feel comfortable recommending this title to teens because it's a story about healing instead of sensationalism. In creating safe places and safe characters with whom for Ethan to share his vulnerabilities, Jennifer has created a safe place for readers to learn about an abusive situation.

I also very much like the many-faceted approach Jennifer took to Ethan's therapy, and I could tell so much care went into creating Dr. Greenberg and the dynamic between him and Ethan. I'm not going to lie; some of the therapy scenes were INTENSE because Ethan slowly starts to remember some of traumatic moments he had repressed. Again, these scenes are really intense so I would recommend parents and teachers and librarians read this and do some research in case the teens in your life have some questions about these moments, BUT 1. I love that Dr. Greenberg and Groovy create this safe and comforting atmosphere in which Ethan can face the worst parts and 2. Jennifer is so so thoughtful about how and what she reveals. Nothing is sensationalized. Readers will understand what happened to Ethan without reading a play-by-play. The focus, always, is on Ethan and his healing. These scenes are also great because Dr. Greenberg explains many of his methods to Ethan in a way that's informational to Ethan and the reader without being info-dumpy. Jennifer didn't just copy and paste psychiatry texts; she thoughtfully explains different strategies in a way that feels authentic to sessions between a trauma survivor and his therapist.

Although Afterward is told in alternating points of view, switching each chapter between Ethan and Caroline, the story is undoubtedly Ethan's. Ethan's chapters, although often emotionally exhausting, were easier somehow. I think it's because at the beginning of the novel, Ethan is rescued and his character arc is more or less in a positive direction while Caroline's road is far more uneven. While Ethan's storyline gave me hope even as he battled with his past, Caroline's story made me hurt for her future. Ethan has a supportive family emotionally and financially while Caroline's parents struggle financially and her father is pulling away emotionally. While Ethan is able to confront his demons through a solid year of therapy, Caroline and her brother Dylan aren't afforded the same opportunity. Afterward, while a story centering on abuse and mental trauma, also deals quite a bit with socioeconomic imbalance, and it hurt to read.

I desperately wanted Caroline, Dylan, and their parents to have the same tools Ethan has to heal, but they just can't afford it. I hate that. I hate that mental and emotional well being are considered a luxury, especially for someone like Dylan, who already has developmental challenges and now has to deal with a kidnapping. And Caroline, who is treated like Dylan's third parent (although their dad is extremely hands off so really Caroline is more like the second), is also dealing very poorly with the situation and turns to self-medicating and self-destructive behavior since her parents aren't able to give her other methods with which to overcome. It was so hard to read Caroline's scenes because I wanted her to be able to heal, but the hits just kept on coming.

I am glad Ethan and Caroline meet and strike the world's unlikeliest friendship. The scenes featuring the two of them playing and talking about music are lighter and funnier than anything else (except maybe Groovy), and I think Afterward desperately needed some lightness to it, as do both Ethan and Caroline. It's so odd that these two, who are tied together in this horrible life-changing way, are able to find comfort and humor in one another.

Overall, I am very impressed with Afterward, and I'll definitely be reading more of Jennifer's books (holy cow, her fourth book sounds UH-MAY-ZING). I am very impressed with her ability to create balance in her work in themes and characterization. Afterward deals with some very heavy subjects, but Jennifer approached them with grace and tenderness, and it really showed in her writing. I highly recommend readers pick up Afterward and discuss it with friends, family, teachers, students, etc. It's a powerful story, and I hope those who need it will be able to find it.

Purchase Links:

About the Author:
Jennifer Mathieu started writing stories when she was in kindergarten and now teaches English to high school students. She won the Teen Choice Debut Author Award at the Children's Choice Book Awards for her first novel, The Truth About Alice. She is also the author of Devoted and Afterward. She lives in Texas with her husband, son, dog, and cat.

Author Links:

I have a signed copy of Afterward to share with you guys! This giveaway is open to residents of  US & Canada. Entrants must be 13+. Giveaway is open until 12 AM CST October 13th. Please enter via Rafflecopter below; winner will be chosen at random, and odds are determined by number of entries. I reserve the right to disqualify any entries that are not in accordance with my giveaway policies as stated in the Review & Site Policies tab at the top of the page. Good luck!

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  1. From your review, it sounds like this book will be an emotional one to read for me. These are my favorites--this author has the talent to bring out emotions in the reader--both good and bad--and this means I will seek other books by her to read also.

    1. Jennifer did a wonderful and tasteful job on Aftermath, and she is a lovely person. I will definitely be giving her other books a shot, and I hope more readers will too.

  2. Jennifer is a wonderful author! I got hooked on her after reading The Truth About Alice. You really should read that book next.

    1. It's on my list! I'm also going to read Devoted. One of my coworkers loves that one best.

  3. Sounds like I better keep a box of tissues close by while reading

    1. I'm a SERIOUS CRIER when it comes to books, but I don't think I got too teary. Afterward made me feel, but it also made me think, and usually that keeps me from being as tearful.

  4. I like emotional books. Great review