- The Beginning of After
When Laurel begs off participating in a family ice-cream run with neighbors, little does she know that her decision will save her own life while changing it forever: her parents, younger brother, and neighbor are killed in a car accident that leaves the driver, her neighbor’s husband, in a coma. Her grandmother comes to live with her, and the two of them walk softly around the empty house, with Laurel trying to reclaim as much normality as she can to finish her junior year. The neighbor’s disaffected teenage son, David, makes that difficult, however. He is mostly staying by his father’s side, but his intermittent visits are always upsetting, partly because Laurel blames his dad for the accident, and partly because she has conflicted feelings for David—pity, empathy, anger, and a little attraction. Laurel’s grieving process is depicted with sensitivity and realism; although she misses her family, she never idealizes them, and she focuses more on how her life will be different without them rather than mawkishly dwelling on their loss. Her good-girl tendencies and her essential pragmatism help her keep her life in balance as she gets a new job, focuses on school, and tries to develop a relationship with a kind boy from school, but they aren’t always adequate to keep her emotional turbulence in check. David, on the other hand, tries to avoid both grief and responsibility by taking off after a few weeks, quitting school and traveling cross-country, but it’s his honesty that helps Laurel clarify what she needs to move forward. Readers looking for a leisurely though absorbing story of a girl surviving unthinkable loss will find this engrossing.