First Lines: Anyone who’s had something truly crappy happen to them will tell you: It’s all about Before and After.
This book was on my to-read list for the last 9 years. Sigh. But it was also one of the last books I was able to check out from the library before it closed, so…I’m kind of doing my homework. Actually, the premise of this has always fascinated me because I’m continually drawn to the books I know are going to make me sad but mean something.
Sixteen-year-old Laurel’s life changes in a single moment when her parents and brother are killed in a car accident. Her neighbor, David Kaufman, lost his mom in the accident as well–and his dad was the one driving. Life in the After isn’t easy as Laurel navigates the new “normal.” Boy may be approaching her out of pity. Her friendships are strained. Memories are everywhere. And Mr. Kaufman is comatose, but very much alive unlike her family. Through it all, David keeps swooping in and out of her life. Unlike everyone else, he understands what Laurel is going through. As their connection grows, Laurel begins to wonder if maybe After will be…ok.
So I knew I was getting an emotional story out of this and that was right on the money. There were times that were rough. But I felt like it was an accurate portrayal of not only grief, but also of how people who aren’t grieving react to that person. Laurel is, in one fell swoop, left as the only member of her immediate family. It’s heartbreaking, but her journey was really something to see.
Laurel is a character who is far from perfect, despite the fact that many people do actually see her as “perfect” because of her great grades and SAT scores. She does have a lot of flaws and seeing how those manifested, especially as contrasted to David’s grieving process, was really awesome. David and Laurel are night and day, so their different processes were great to really show how grief and moving on hits people differently.
The story doesn’t exactly totally have a plot. Like it does, but it doesn’t. Most of the book, I couldn’t have told you what we were building toward. Only when the thing actually happened at the end was I like, “Oh, ok I get it now.” Did that diminish my enjoyment? Not particularly. I got sucked into the story because of Laurel and her grandmother and David and Meg. I binge-read this hard.
One thing about this book that was a little laughable while reading it in 2020 was just how dated and cringey the technology was. Whenever people are making plans, they keep asking for the other’s email address. (I truly forgot we ever did that.) And it’s not that they don’t text in this book, but when they do, it looks like either your grandma trying to text or like you sat on your phone and it happened to look like a sentence. It was stuff like “Jst cnt w8 2 c u ltr.” Oh my God, I thought I was trying to decipher another language. My whole life, I’ve never had anybody text me like that. That’s how my parents thought we texted back in 2008.
But if you can ignore that, it’s a pretty good story.